An estimated one million “problematic” or “abusive” tweets targeting 95 women politicians in India were posted between March and May 2019, a study by Amnesty International India showed. This averaged to 113 such tweets daily per woman politician in the period around the General Elections.
This was 13.8% of the total number of tweets that mentioned the 95 women in this period. Of all such tweets classified as “problematic” or “abusive”, the study found a fifth to be containing sexism or misogyny. Muslim women politicians, or those “perceived as Muslims”, received 55.5% more such tweets than those from other religions, the study found. Women from marginalised castes got 59% more caste-based abuse than others.
Women politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party faced lesser abuse than others, according to the research. Congress politicians got 45.3% more abusive or problematic tweets than those from BJP, and the figure was 56.7% for those from other parties.
Ths study said that sexism was experienced by women across all spectrums of political ideology and affiliation, religion, caste, race, age, marital status and election outcome.
The research, titled “Troll Patrol India: Exposing Online Abuse Faced by Women Politicians in India”, was conducted through crowdsourcing, machine learning and data science, Amnesty said. The study found nearly 70 lakh tweets mentioning 95 women politicians during the period, and studied 1.14 lakh of them.
The research defined “problematic” content as tweets containing hurtful or hostile content that does not necessarily meet the threshold of abuse.
Amnesty sent the research findings to Twitter in November 2019. The social media platform responded, saying that making itself “free of abuse, spam and other behaviours that distract from the public conversation” was one of its top priorities.
A Twitter spokesperson told Scroll.in that “abuse, harassment and hateful conduct have no place on Twitter” and added that the company had taken strong steps to proactively address the “health of the conversation on our service”, including around “peak moments” such as the Lok Sabha elections. “Today more than 50% of abusive content that we take action on is identified proactively using technology, instead of relying on reports from people using Twitter,” the spokesperson added. “Our work will never be done, and our product, policy and engineering teams continue to work at scale and pace to build a healthier Twitter.”
However, women politicians that Amnesty spoke to said Twitter was failing in its responsibility to respect women’s rights. The non-profit organisation urged Twitter to publicly share “comprehensive, meaningful and disaggregated information about the nature and levels of online abuse against women on a country-by-country basis”, along with information on how it responds to the incidents. The organisation also asked the platform to improve its reporting mechanisms to ensure consistent application and better response to complaints. It also sought clarity about how Twitter interprets and identifies violence and abuse.
Amnesty International India Executive Director Avinash Kumar said that women were regularly and relentlessly subjected to abuse on Twitter, and this had a “silencing effect” on them.