When Disinformation Targets Women, It’s Designed to Keep Them Out of Public Life
By Paulina Ibarra, Executive Director of Fundación Multitudes.
By the time the first verified reports about COVID-19 were published, misinformation about the virus was already being shared. Disinformation and ‘fake news’ soon followed. It didn’t take much time at all before distortions, lies and fictions were reaching more people, more quickly, than facts.
None of this should surprise us, since we’ve known for some time that lies spread faster than truth. The real problem arises when lies are believed. And when does that happen? Research tells us that lies are more likely to be believed, and especially catch fire, when they reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. While some beliefs are harmless, others can be weaponized, with the help of disinformation, to achieve undemocratic ends.
In the world of politics, this is already happening. Disinformation campaigns regularly rely on sexist beliefs about women, power and politics in attempts to delegitimize women who hold or seek office. Distinct from online abuse, trolling, revenge porn or even pornographic deepfakes, disinformation is a stealthier, more pernicious way to undermine women and dissuade them from entering politics. This emerging threat has devastating implications for women in public life and, by extension, democracies everywhere.
It’s crucial that we pay attention, and commit energy and resources to better understand this problem. What’s at stake is simply too important to ignore, especially now. Just when women are inching closer to a more equitable share of public power, trying to actualize democracy’s promise of government by the people, for the people — women being a key part of the people — gendered disinformation puts hard-fought gains at risk.
Right now women hold just 25.5% of parliament seats worldwide. After years of progression, we’re seeing women’s representation slow, stall or even move in the opposite direction. In 2020 the number of countries with no women in government increased, reversing a promising trend. Sliding backwards is not an option. Not only because equitable representation is a democratic ideal we should all strive for, but because we know that more women’s representation means more stability, equality and…