Women politicians trolled more: Amnesty India

If they belong to the Muslim community, it is 55% more abuse than others, finds study

Updated - January 23, 2020 03:07 pm IST

Published - January 23, 2020 11:05 am IST - NEW DELHI

The accounts will, however, not be removed at once. The process is said to take place over the course of several months

The accounts will, however, not be removed at once. The process is said to take place over the course of several months

Twitter is a toxic space for Indian women politicians, who face substantially higher abuse on the social media platform than their counterparts in the U.S. and the U.K., according to a recent study. In fact, one out of every seven tweets mentioning them is problematic or abusive, with many women targeted by a relentless flow of threats and sexist, religious, racist and casteist slurs.

While all women are targeted, Muslim women politicians faced 55% more abuse than others, according to the study of 95 politicians carried out by Amnesty India during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

“Being a Muslim woman sometimes becomes a huge burden. I am subjected to so much [more] hate than a Muslim man,” said BJP leader Shazia Ilmi, who was quoted in the report. “Only 25% of what I get is based on the content of my politics, 75-80% is about being a woman and a Muslim woman.” She said many women do not enter politics because the price of constant online harassment and trolling was too high.


Hasiba Amin, social media convener for the Congress, said she faced “traumatising” abuse since she entered politics in 2014. “Rape threats were routine, as were character assassinations, insinuations about my sexual relationships with older men...Now in 2019, I have considerably reduced my activity on Twitter. I ask myself how trollable is that and whether I really need to put up my opinion,” she said, according to the report.

Apart from Muslims, women from marginalised castes, unmarried women, and those from non-BJP parties faced a disproportionate share of abuse.

The Troll Patrol India study trained volunteers to sift through the tweets mentioning these 95 women between March and May 2019. Of the seven million tweets which mentioned them, a sample of 1.14 lakh was analysed. They found that 13.8% of the tweets had problematic or abusive content.

Abusive tweets had content that promote violence against or threaten people based on their race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, religious affiliation, age, disability or other categories. They include death threats and rape threats. Problematic tweets contained hurtful or hostile content, often repeated, which could reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes, although they did not meet the threshold of abuse.

The study found that during the elections, there was a significant decrease of abuse in English, while it remained constant in Hindi. Hypothesising that this anomaly was due to tools and measures adopted by Twitter during the poll dates, Amnesty India urged the social media company to enhance its safety tools and recognise that colloquial slang and abuse in other languages in English script often slips below its radar.

“It is not the role of each woman to individually ensure her safety in public space,” noted Aam Aadmi Party leader Atishi. “For example, if a woman steps out in public transport, it is the government’s role to ensure that they are safe there. Similarly, if there is a women who is accessing social media on Twitter, it is the responsibility of the platform to ensure that it is a safe and secure space for women.”

Responding to the report, a Twitter spokesperson said, "Abuse, harassment and hateful conduct have no place on Twitter and we have taken strong steps to proactively address the health of the conversation on our service - including around peak moments such as Loksabha 2019. 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."

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