University research exposes vile sexist Twitter abuse

Women politicians were subject to abuse

Published on 07 June 2018

High-profile Tory women were targeted for more sexist abuse on Twitter than their Labour counterparts, research from the University of Sunderland has found. 

Research by the University found 93% of the misogynistic tweets sent to frontbench female politicians during the 2017 general election were directed at Conservatives - mainly the Prime Minister.

Of the total 775 tweets captured - which were flagged for key words such as “slag”, “whore”, “witch” and “dyke” - 719 were sent to Tories, 56 to Labour candidates (7%) and none to Lib Dems.

Theresa May, the UK’s most prominent political figure, received the vast majority, followed by Labour’s Diane Abbott and the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The largest spike in abuse came around 1pm on June 9, when Theresa May made her victory speech on the steps on 10 Downing Street, and confirmed her intention to strike a deal for government with the DUP. The PM received an abusive tweet every 1.2 minutes.

Among the tweets were comments such as “hope your husband dies of cancer”, “hope you snuff it you.....” and “die u b**ch”.

The next highest volume of tweets came as exit polls were released on the evening on June 8, which forecast how the Conservatives would lose its overall majority.

The study, in partnership with Creative Fuse North East, saw researchers capture tweets and log them instantly. Some have since been removed, but many remain on Twitter.

Neil Macfarlane, Senior Lecturer in Online Journalism at the University, said: “We were genuinely shocked at the amount of abuse female politicians face online, and it’s safe to say that this survey only captures a sample of it.

“After looking through the many hundreds of tweets, it’s clear some of our MPs face the vilest personal abuse on a minute-by-minute basis. People tweet insults they wouldn’t dream of saying in face-to-face encounters.

 “The issue is now being talked about at the highest levels at Westminster, and at Silicon Valley, and it will be interesting to see what steps are taken to curtail this kind of abuse.”

Twitter, which has been criticised for its response to hate speech on the platform, recently announced changes to its algorithm aimed at tackling the trolls.

The company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, said the new system amounts to one of the “highest-impact” changes to the platform. “The spirit of the thing is that we want to take the burden off the person receiving abuse or mob-like behaviour,” he said. 

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to clamp down on the social media giants. 

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of Young Women’s Trust, a charity that supports young women on low or no pay, says the issue must be addressed so as not to deter women from entering politics. 

“What we are seeing is a systematic attempt to silence women, and social media companies must take a stand against it,” she said. 

“The sexism and abuse that women face when they speak out – regardless of party – is an affront to democracy. We want young women to feel they can have their say without fearing abuse.

“Politics will be infinitely better once women’s views are respected.”