Is Kamala Harris the most hated politician online? Being a woman of color in position of power triggers abuse
In 2020, after Joe Biden announced that he would pick a woman as his running mate, US Representative Jackie Speier reportedly started warning Facebook to be more vigilant since women politicians tend to receive more online abuses. The California Democrat, whose meetings included one with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, said, “We showed them 20 examples that were disgusting — and they were still up!” In response, Speier was told by executives, “Keep sending us these horrific examples and we’ll take them down.”
And now in 2021, when Kamala Harris is the first female vice president of America, Speier’s concerns regarding Harris getting outsized assaults and venomous lies have been confirmed. According to The Detroit News, research stated that the 56-year-old may be the most targeted US politician on the internet apparently because of her sex, color, and the position she holds. Cecile Guerin, a researcher in London at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said: “Abuse directed at women is highly personalized, often attacking them based on their appearance and denigrating their intelligence. It is also more likely to imply that they should quit politics and that they don’t belong in the public space.”
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Guerin recently led a study that claimed that women politicians in the US receive two to three times more online abuse than male ones. She noted, “It certainly discourages women from getting engaged in politics.” Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center, added: “I think a lot of people don’t understand until they’ve gone through this sort of thing how much time it takes, how exhausting it is.”
Reports said that since Harris is the vice president of America, online attacks against her are monitored by the Secret Service. Facebook and other social media platforms also insisted that they do their best to detect and remove disrespectful contents, but added that some posts or comments, specially coded or sarcastic posts, escape filters powered by artificial intelligence.
A study led by Jankowicz, which was published in January, analyzed over 300,000 posts against 13 politicians in four English-speaking countries in a couple of months before the U.S. election. Harris was the most targeted politician in the study, leaving behind other high-profile women of color, like Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The study also found that older White women, like Senator Susan Collins, were not targeted online as much as women of color.
Jankowicz stated that online attackers alleged that Harris slept her way to the top and that she has a secret plan to steal authority from Biden. Some even went on to claim that she is secretly a man. “There’s no way that you can be in a position of power. There has to be something duplicitous about you. It must be that you’re a man,” Jankowicz said while explaining the twisted misogynistic logic.
Nathan Barankin, Harris’ former Senate chief of staff and a top deputy when she was California’s attorney general, also expressed his thoughts over the online attack as he said, “I am unaware of any job she has ever had in which there were not a steady stream of very real and viable threats to her safety. And those are physical, digital, email, and otherwise.” Barankin added: “This is a person who started out her career prosecuting murders and rape. She knows what evil is out there.”