Rape threats, Islamophobia, casteism: Life of female Indian politicians on Twitter

Can’t be compared.
Can’t be compared.
Image: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
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This post has been updated.

Twitter-verse can be particularly vicious if you are a woman politician in India.

During the general election in 2019, one in seven tweets mentioning a female politician was either problematic or abusive, according to the “Troll Patrol India” report by Amnesty International (pdf) released today (Jan. 23). The human rights organisation chose 95 Indian women politicians who had at least one Twitter mention. It then enlisted 1,912 volunteer decoders from 82 countries to analyse 114,716 tweets for abusive and problematic content.

The study was conducted for the period between March and May 2019, the months of India’s Lok Sabha elections that saw prime minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win a second term.

Twitter, though, said that it has worked hard to make the micro-blogging platform safer for women. “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 Lok Sabha 2019,” a Twitter spokesperson told Quartz. “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. 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.”

Yet, Troll Patrol recorded several instances of abuse during the election season.

Amnesty’s study found that women from political parties other than BJP received the most amount of abusive trolling and threats on Twitter. “If you were to see the trolling handles you will see a common political ideology spanning across the handles. They don’t refrain from hitting out at women from their own party if they feel they have been out of line,” Aam Aadmi Party’s Atishi told Amnesty.

Mass abuse

Up to 13.8% of the tweets mentioning woman politicians were problematic or abusive, the Troll Patrol report noted. This was considerably higher than what politicians in the UK or US experienced.

In the public eye

The more popular and active a female politician is on social media, the more likely she gets abused.

Ingrained biases

One in every five abusive tweets had a sexist or misogynistic slant. The second-highest category of abuse was ethnic or religious slurs.

Islamophobia all the way

Most abusive content, at over 55%, was directed towards Muslim women politicians. “In terms of types of abuse, Muslim women received 94.1% more ethnic or religious slurs than women from other religions,” Amnesty noted.

Caste bias

Caste identity is more often than not a key element.

Political make-up

Compared to those of the BJP, woman politicians from other parties received 56.7% more abuse.