While Twitter plays an important role in political engagement, campaigning and activism, it is not a pleasant experience for women politicians in India. In fact, one in every seven tweets that mentioned women politicians were abusive, as found by a study conducted by global NGO Amnesty International. As per its study, 95 women politicians were mentioned one million times in such tweets between March and May 2019. The online abuse ranged from racist and sexist attacks to rape and death threats.
Shazia Ilmi, a member of the ruling BJP, was quoted saying that Twitter is a tough battlefield, and that people should know what women in politics endure.
“Really I do believe that Twitter is my workplace. But if my workplace were to be a battlefield, all the time, would I be able to contribute to the cause that I represent, easily and with fairness, if I am constantly being attacked for being a woman,” she said.
One in Five
Titled Troll patrol India – Exposing Online Abuse Faced by Women Politicians in India, Amnesty’s report stated that one in every five abusive tweets contained misogynistic or sexist, ethnic or religious slur, racism, casteism, homophobia or transphobia, sexual threats, physical threats.
The study had used crowd-sourced research and data science to measure the scale and nature of online abuse faced by women politicians in India during the 2019 General Elections.
Interestingly, women from political parties other than BJP seem to have faced more abusive trolls. In fact, those associated with the opposition party Congress received as much as 45.3 percent of the abusive content, as per this report.
Hasiba Amin, the social media convener of Indian National Congress (INC), has said that she has reduced her activity on Twitter since she entered politics in 2014. “The trolling was sexist, misogynistic and targeted me for being Muslim. I was told that ‘I have no right to speak as a Muslim woman’. Rape threats were routine, as were character assassinations, insinuations about my sexual relationships with older men,” she said.
Is there something Twitter can do?
While Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has acknowledged the shortcomings, the platform has not taken measures to curb such virtual violence which silences women on the platform.
Amnesty International India has asked Twitter to publish data and provide country-specific insights, determine the nature of tweets based on race, ethnicity, caste-status, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.
Additionally, the study also features a letter Amnesty International India has sent to Twitter. Among many other things, it has asked Twitter to make the platform gender-friendly and not just user-friendly.