In the run-up to the UK 2019 general election, the WeVerify partner University of Sheffield carried out a longitudinal quantitative analysis of abusive tweets targeting Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. This showed a 200-fold increase in 2019, from across the political spectrum in which doctored tweets, anti-Semitic tropes and accusations of financial duplicity have been wielded in attempts to undermine her credibility.
This analysis was based on our collection of 4.2 million tweets sent to or from election candidates in the six week period spanning from the start of November until shortly after the December 12th election. We found abuse in 4.46% of replies received by candidates, up from 3.27% in the matching period for the 2017 UK general election. Abuse levels have also been climbing month on month throughout 2019.
Online abuse and disinformation targeting Jo Swinson
Our research showed that Swinson has received increasing levels of online abuse since she became party leader in July 2019. She was sent 2,752 abusive tweets in September compared to only 14 in February.
Taken overall, we found that women received more sexist abuse than men.
An older Amnesty study has also found that female politicians, particularly women of colour tend to receive a disproportionate amount of abuse on social media.
The online abuse work at Sheffield was used to provide an exclusive insight in support of First Draft’s extensive research on the way imposter content was used to try and discredit Jo Swinson.
For example, some Twitter users were re-posting this fake tweet from the Lib Dem leader:
“The thought of leaving the EU without a deal breaks my heart. BUT there is no way I can ask my fellow Liberal Democrats to put Jeremy Corbyn into power for just a few days to extend Article 50. We simply have to #GetBrexitDone!”Example provided in First Draft’s analysis report
According to First Draft, “imposter content, in which hoaxers pose as known or trusted sources of information, has become an increasingly popular disinformation tactic in recent years”. In this case, they were also acting as triggers for online abuse towards the MP, by the voters who were misled into believing them.
Author: Kalina Bontcheva (USFD).