When the young and female leadership of the Cabinet of Ministers of Finland, led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, came into power in December 2019, they made international headlines as pioneers of gender equality in governance.
A new report from the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence claims that the Finnish government is overwhelmingly targeted by misogynistic online harassment. The report analysed a collection of abusive tweets sent to Finnish politicians, uncovering several findings about the nature of online abuse perpetrated against Finnish parliamentarians.
The report feels though controversial from the aspect that it is focusing only on Finland (that is not a NATO member), does not include studies of neighboring NATO-members Denmark and Norway, both also led by women prime ministers – and somehow manages to echo the insults.
Sexist and misogynistic messages
The report includes the insults from Twitter, stressed that the ministers were “overwhelmingly victimized“, contributing to the disrespect for the women ministers in the government.
The bulk of abusive messaging originated from clusters of right-wing accounts. Additionally, there were multiple instances of female ministers receiving abusive tweets with sexually explicit language.
“The misogynistic and objectifying language we observed may be intended to humiliate and intimidate female politicians, likely for the purpose of discouraging their participation in government, as has been found in previous studies.”
Topics triggering abusive tweets
The study further sought to explore the factors that influence the volume and type of abuse directed at Finnish politicians. To this end, they investigated the most significant spikes in abusive activity and identified the main topics of concern among users that tweet abuse, which include: the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration, the EU, and left-wing politics.
An earlier study released by the research branch of the Finnish government in November 2019 explored the nature and extent of hate speech targeting Finnish politicians in general. The study found that a third of municipal decision-makers and nearly half of all members of Finnish Parliament have been subjected to hate speech online. Additionally, two-thirds of policymakers surveyed believe that hate speech has increased in recent years.
According to the same study, hate speech directed at public servants may have a negative impact on political participation, as 28% of municipal officials who were targeted with hate speech expressed that the experience decreased their willingness to participate in decision-making.
More online abuse against women
Research has repeatedly found that women are subjected to more online abuse, bullying, hateful language, and threats than men.
A 2017 survey by the US-based Pew Research Center found that women are much more likely to experience severe types of gender-based or sexual harassment than men. In fact, 21% of women aged 18 to 29 reported being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than twice the percentage of men in the same age bracket.