Literature Review: An Analysis of Tweets Sent to UK Members of Parliament

FOTO CREDIT: Gerd Altmann/

Southern, R., & Harmer, E. (2019). Twitter, Incivility and “Everyday” Gendered Othering: An Analysis of Tweets Sent to UK Members of Parliament. Social Science Computer Review.

Do male and female MPs face dissimilar levels and types of uncivil behavior on twitter? Previous research focusing on high-profile politicians conclude that women suffer higher levels of online harassment than their male colleagues. To provide a broader picture of online incivility, Southern and Harmer study the experience of less prominent House of Commons members in their recent publication. The authors make use of around 117,000 tweets to ordinary UK MPs who are not amongst the top 50 most followed in a time span of 14 days in April 2018. They manually coded all tweets and found that around 10 percent of the messages can be deemed generally uncivil. They further categorized these posts along the lines of nine types: stereotyping, name-calling, calling the recipient a liar or unintelligent, profanity, sexism as well as direct measures of silencing, questioning the position as MP and outright threats of violence. A first set of quantitative analyses of this data shows that differences between the treatment of male and female politicians are smaller than previously expected, but some interesting variation exists. Female MPs are more likely than male MPs to receive generally uncivil tweets. They also tend to be stereotyped more frequently and their status as representative is more likely to be challenged by twitter users. However, male and female MPs receive a similar amount of tweets calling them names, silencing them or insulting their intelligence. A closer, qualitative look at the sexist tweets (259 in total) further clarifies that women tend to face misogynistic offences, attacks on their femininity, negative comments on their appearance and sexualisation. Male MPs, by contrast, are mostly confronted with tweets contesting their masculinity.

This article takes an innovative angle to study insults and harassments of politicians on twitter with a mixed-method design. I would be interested to learn more about whether the gender differences in online hostility have always been surprisingly small or whether the gap between incivility against male and female politicians has been decreasing overtime. Nowadays, ordinary female MPs might be less targeted, because with increasing number of women assuming office they are not a novelty in the strict sense anymore. While female politicians might have been perceived as intruders of the public sphere and as violators of traditional gender norms in earlier times, they might be more socially accepted nowadays and thus less verbally attacked. Finding such a pattern would be good news for highly visible female MPs because uncivil treatment against them should then also diminish once women with higher public recognition and status become more common and with more female politicians occupying prestigious positions e.g. in the government or parliament.

By Sarah C. Dingler in March 2020



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