European Federation of Journalists

How gendered disinformation adapts to the context of Covid-19

Credits: Prescilla Du Preez

The EU DisinfoLab published their report tracking misogynistic disinformation during Covid-19 on 4 December, in solidarity with the #16DaysofActivism2020 against gender-based violence. Researcher Maria Giovanna Sessa adopted a disinformation methodological lens to analyse examples of gendered disinformation.

The report “Misogyny and Misinformation: An analysis of gendered disinformation tactics during the COVID-19 pandemic” sheds light on how misogynistic narratives have been retrieved and adapted to fit within the mis- and disinformation environment surrounding the pandemic.

Via qualitative, cross-national analysis of fact-checked disinformation in Italy, Spain and France, this research shows a transversal trend in gendered disinformation in the context of Covid-19. The researcher maintains a balance between emphasising a cross-national pattern of disinformation while bringing forward country-specific examples. It should be mentioned that there are numerous types of gendered disinformation, but this research focuses on false information that relies on wrong or misleading depictions of women.

The report found that such narratives tend to produce either a “negative representation of women as enemies, in order to fuel the public debate” or a “pitiful depiction of women as victims in order to push an alternative agenda”. Misogynistic disinformation was also found to often be merged with other polarising topics, such as anti-vaccine claims, to divide audiences.

By analysing various examples, such as the International Women’s Day in Spain, this report reveals how gendered disinformation not only constitutes an issue for women, but “has a detrimental effect on civil rights and democratic institutions as a whole”. Tactics were found to be the dissemination of conspiracy beliefs that women were responsible for spreading the virus or that a small group had a hidden, ill-intentioned agenda. In Italy, for instance, anti-abortion activists diffused the misleading news on social media that the government Task Force for the post-pandemic recovery was secretly introducing gender theory into the school curriculum.

Rounding off with a number of recommendations, the report suggests that acknowledging gendered disinformation is a crucial first step to fight this phenomenon. Finding counter-examples and laying bare ulterior motives behind disinformation are the next steps. Notably, the researcher points out repeatedly that misogynistic narratives should not be seen as isolated incidents, as they are rooted in pre-existing attitudes. The root causes of misogyny, which are subsequently echoed in the information landscape, need to be addressed.

The EU DisinfoLab is a young independent NGO focused on researching and tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU, its member states, core institutions, and core values. You may read about their recent publications here.