The rise of social media platforms has fundamentally changed the nature of political discourse. Never before have voters had such easy and immediate access to the political leaders who represent them, and never have political leaders had the ability to communicate so easily with voters without the filter of the media.

While this increased connectivity has benefits for both voters and political leaders, it has also provided a platform for the less desirable elements of political discourse. The immediacy and anonymity of social media means that derogatory and abusive comments can be easily shared and spread, with little recourse.

In this report, we illustrate and analyse the ways in which gender affects online political discourse, the impact that it has on female candidates and politicians, and what can be done to mitigate online harassment and abuse. We also explore the ways that digital campaigning tactics can be beneficial to female political leaders, despite the downsides of engaging on social media.

This report is the result of an in-depth analysis of social media conversations related to high-profile male and female political leaders, conducted in collaboration with BrandsEye. As Jean Pierre Kloppers, BrandsEye's CEO explains: "Social media is a rich source of volunteered public opinion data that has until now proven challenging to organise into decipherable insights. By combining AI and human intelligence, we are able to gather accurate insights that empower leaders of the world to understand and engage with the key issues driving public sentiment.”

The report also includes interviews with both female politicians and campaign strategists, and draws upon recent research and policy proposals focused on strategies for tackling online harassment and abuse.

As more women enter into the highest levels of politics, the attitudes towards female leadership are beginning to change, which will in turn impact political discourse, both online and offline. While it may often feel like an uphill battle in the face of harassment and threat, it’s one worth fighting for the sake of our democratic systems and the benefit of the next generation of female political leaders.

Eva Barboni

Founder & CEO Atalanta