The Democracy and Technology Programme was represented at the 118th American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition by Alexandra Pavliuc. The researcher presented a paper called “Wartime, Gender, and Social Media: Political Communication before and during the Ukraine War“. Read the full paper here.
Online abuse is a problem that impacts women politicians around the world. This is the case in Ukraine, a country where women have previously been targeted with abusive narratives online (Jankowicz, 2017), and where women only represent 20% of nationally elected politicians. Women carry the burden of being expected to be primary domestic carers (Kolinchak, 2007), and this burden may be reflected in the abusive narratives that are formed about them online. This study aims to quantify the drivers of online abuse towards women politicians in Ukraine, and analyze whether online abuse causes women to withdraw from political life. The following research questions are addressed:
RQ1: What explains the levels of abuse that Ukrainian politicians receive on Telegram and Twitter?
RQ2: Does online abuse cause Ukrainian women politicians with intersecting identities to depart from political life? If so, how?
Answering these research questions will require three main steps. First, I will curate a detailed database of all Ukrainian politicians who have served on the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) since 2012, including each politician’s intersecting demographic characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity, number of children, etc.) and their electoral district’s characteristics (average income, historical political outcomes, proximity to bordering countries, etc.). Second, I will collect abusive content towards them on Twitter and Telegram. This will be done with an automated toxicity detector as well as through a manual search of social media content for nuanced abusive keywords and phrases (Perspective, nd; Jankowicz et al., 2021). Third, I will locate correlations between the politician’s levels of abuse and variables in the database, as well as to their own political outcomes.
This study aims to uncover the demographic and electoral drivers of online abuse towards Ukrainian politicians. The inquiry into different traits of politicians stems from the intersectional framework, which posits that people’s overlapping identities should be considered when studying societal harms (Crenshaw, 1990). While common intersectional frameworks study gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference, intersectionality in Ukraine may take different forms, which are reflected in this study. 80% of Ukrainians identify as ethnically Ukrainian (World Population Review, 2021). A woman’s marital status and family life is hypothesized to appear as a driver of abuse, and therefore marital status and number of children will be included in the politician database and will be compared to more traditional intersectional variables.
Women in the digital age are more likely than men to receive online abuse that makes them fear for their lives (Eckert 2018). They receive sexualized commentary on their gender and appearance and are more likely to step back from the public eye because of this abuse (Lenhart et al. 2016; Sobieraj 2020). Through this research, I will add an Eastern European perspective to the study of online abuse, intersectionality, and political communication.
You can browse the conference program here.