October 24, 2021

The Wilson Center and Moonshot CVE Release Landmark Study on Online Gendered Abuse and Disinformation

From The Wilson Center:

Online gendered and sexualized abuse and disinformation against women in public life is widespread, and social media platforms are doing too little to stop it, finds a landmark study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Moonshot CVE.

“Malign Creativity: How Gender, Sex, and Lies are Weaponized Against Women Online” explores gendered abuse and disinformation targeting 13 female politicians across six social media platforms over two months in late 2020. In an analysis of over 336,000 pieces of abusive content shared by over 190,000 users, the research team found:

  • Generalized gendered abuse online was far more widespread than disinformation. Terms indicating gender-based abuse accounted for 50.4% of the total data collected, and 12 of 13 subjects were targeted with such content;
  • Nine research subjects were subject to gendered or sexualized disinformation narratives, with women of color subjected to intersectional narratives also targeting their race or ethnicity. The detected disinformation narratives were sexual, transphobic, and racist in nature;
  • Vice-President Kamala Harris was targeted with an overwhelming amount of abuse during the 2020 election campaign, with 78% of the total data collected targeted at her. Many abusive posts spread false, sexualized narratives about Vice President Harris;
  • Malign creativity—the use of coded language; iterative, context-based visual and textual memes; and other tactics to avoid detection on social media platforms—is the greatest obstacle to detecting and enforcing against online gendered abuse and disinformation

The study also draws on focus group discussions with women who have endured online gendered harassment and abuse, and on interviews with women targeted by Russian, Iranian, and Chinese state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. It underlines both the offline toll that online abuse takes and the fact that gender inequality has national security implications. Finally, the study provides recommendations for social media platforms, government policymakers, and employers to mitigate the problem in service of a more equitable, democratic future. 

Direct to Executive Summary

Direct to Full Text Report
63 pages; PDF.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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