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Understanding, detecting, and mitigating online misogyny against politically active women

Whether via social media or in online forums - billions of people regularly use these channels for political exchange. As promising as the internet's possibilities for free opinion-forming once seemed, it has long since ceased to be a protected space for participation. Radicalisation, hate speech and especially hostility towards politically active women are on the rise. A consortium project funded by the bidt therefore wants to recognise dynamics of extreme speech at an early stage.

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Politically active women who raise their voices online and thus become publicly visible are often the target of extreme speech. This ranges from individual insulting or harrassing comments to a shitstorm.

Prof. Dr. Sahana Udupa To the profile

Hate speech often leads from the net into real life and results in violent crimes against women. Those affected should not be left alone in a state of helplessness because online misogyny is a problem for society as a whole, according to Udupa. “Politically active women who speak out should be encouraged to continue. And for this, it is important to understand the dynamics of extreme speech better. This is the root of the research project,” says Udupa.

With Professor Jürgen Pfeffer and Professor Janina Isabel Steinert from the Technical University of Munich, the professor has launched the project Understanding, detecting, and mitigating online misogyny against politically active women. The bidt-funded interdisciplinary project is one of five new consortium projects that started in 2022 and will run for three years. It is still in the early stages – but the comparative approach of the project, which is investigating online hostility in Germany, India and Brazil, is promising.

“The internet and social media have become integral parts of all our lives. This makes it all the more important to counteract extremely negative dynamics such as online misogyny. What happens online has more and more the potential to endanger our society and democracy. We have to contribute to healthier online ecosystems,” says Jürgen Pfeffer.

The computer scientist is the consortium leader of the project and contributes his expertise in computational social science and big data. Online hostility towards women has many facets: “In addition to global misogynistic tendencies and movements, we find very different forms of misogyny in different countries and regions, which result from local cultures and languages as well as prevailing social norms. Connecting global dimensions of misogyny with local dynamics is a central goal of this project,” Pfeffer adds.

Global Health Professor Janina Isabel Steinert, who joins the project team with her expertise in empirical data collection, adds:

It is important for us not only to better understand the content and dynamics, but above all to develop methods for the early detection of such dynamics.

Prof. Dr. Janina Isabel Steinert To the profile

“Therefore, we will base our work on a wide range of research methods and develop three case studies in Germany, India and Brazil, which will also allow us to compare countries.” Because online hate speech does not stop at national borders, developing a toolbox to help people help themselves across national borders is an important milestone of the research activities.

For establishing such a toolbox, the project team is working with concerned female politicians and subject experts, for example, in fact-checking, as well as with media houses in Brazil and India.

“The effects of hostility on the internet must be made transparent in a broad public discourse, and solutions must be developed,” says Udupa. To strengthen this discourse between political representatives, the project team will develop policy briefs and regulatory approaches as recommendations for action to combat online misogyny in a more targeted way.