#ShePersisted Is Fighting Gendered Disinformation Online

Fighting_Gendered_DisinformationThe midterms are underway, and across the country women are taking center stage and running for everything from local school boards and city councils to the US Senate. However, many of them are finding themselves in the crosshairs of online abusers spreading disinformation–spreading half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies–to knock them out of their races. According to #ShePersisted, “All over the world, women in politics and journalism experience relentless volumes of online abuse, threats, and gendered disinformation campaigns on social media – and things are even worse for women facing intersectional discrimination and bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, and other factors. These campaigns are designed to discredit, devalue, and delegitimize women’s political standing, with the goal of ultimately undermining their ability to participate in civic life.”

Sexism in politics is nothing new. In fact, you don’t have to look any further than the 2020 election cycle to see it at work. While sexism may not have been THE factor that determined the winners, it carried weight. Female candidates had to prove their qualifications more than the men they were up against, they had to deal with increased media scrutiny and gender bias, and they faced greater issues surrounding likeability and voter perception on the campaign trail than their male counterparts. All of which of course, was further amplified via social media.

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about it when she suspended her presidential campaign. “Gender in this race — you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, ‘There was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

Social media is playing a part in this election cycle as it has in others, and the impact is much greater than many could imagine. #ShePersisted reports that “algorithms change behavior by incentivizing fake and sensationalized content – over-supplying it to users in the name of profit. This makes it much easier for gendered disinformation campaigns against women to be organized, amplified, and cheaply financed, reaching millions of people and changing the course of history.”

And many offline conversations have also ceased due today’s divisive political environment. The toxic brew of fake news, uninformed opinions and polarizing content online is wearing people down. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans have stopped discussing politics with at least one person in their lives.

This is important. It’s past time for women to be represented in equal numbers in government. Women leaders back the issues that support our families. But continued online abuse and disinformation campaigns are preventing many from getting elected. They are not only thwarting women’s runs for office; they are posing a threat to democratic institutions and women’s rights.

To combat this, #ShePersisted has developed a three-pronged strategy:

Research and Thought Leadership

With original, ground-breaking research, #ShePersisted examines major gendered disinformation campaigns, especially those linked to authoritarianism, and seeks to ensure that this issue is recognized as a dangerous threat to democracy. Through their work, they aim to increase understanding of the real world, personal harm that disinformation causes to female politicians.

Supporting Women Leaders

#ShePersisted designs and implements comprehensive communications strategies for women in politics, including tailored training on how to respond to gendered disinformation and online abuse. They are building on the work of the Women’s Disinformation Defense Project, a unique effort established with several influential women’s political organizations in the U.S. Their advice is based on the latest research and tools available – such as Ultraviolet’s innovative Fairness Media Guide for reporting on sexist and racist disinformation without replicating it.

Advocating for Safer Digital Platforms

Women in politics will not be safe online until social media platforms clean up their act. All too often, attacks on women in politics are unrestrained, unaccountable, and go unchecked. That must change if democracy is to be preserved. That’s why #ShePersisted, together with international and domestic organizations, policymakers, parliaments, and civil society, advocate for the creation of better standards for digital platforms, bringing a much-needed gender lens to conversations on disinformation and platform regulations. In coalition with a broad and diverse range of women’s organizations, #ShePersisted is putting pressure on Big Tech to stop the spread of hate and violence on their platforms and protect users – particularly women.

Their work is crucial. We need fair elections – where women are able to run the same race as their male counterparts. We need women to take their seats at the table and have an equal voice on legislation that is restricting women’s rights to make decisions about their health and families. We need to get representation that understands what it’s like to juggle the demands of a career with the needs of a family, who know that you deserve equal pay, who value affordable healthcare, childcare and workplace protections. Ultimately, we need to elect women who are empowered and who can help you make your voice heard.

To learn more about #ShePersisted and help them in their work – putting an end to gendered disinformation and supporting women’s political equity in government worldwide – go to she-persisted.org.

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