Hate Speech Towards Female Candidates in the Community of Madrid 2023, Gender Bias and Virulence

Patricia Zamora-Martínez, Patricia Gascón-Vera, Salvador Gómez-García

Hate Speech Towards Female Candidates in the Community of Madrid 2023, Gender Bias and Virulence

ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes, vol. 22, no. 1, 2024

Asociación científica ICONO 14

El discurso de odio hacia las candidatas a la Comunidad de Madrid 2023, sesgo de género y virulencia

O Discurso de Ódio contra as Candidatas para a Comunidade de Madri 2023, Viés de Gênero e Virulência

Patricia Zamora-Martínez *

Universidad de Valladolid (UVa), Spain


Patricia Gascón-Vera **

Universidad de Zaragoza (UNIZAR), Spain


Salvador Gómez-García ***

Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Spain


Received: 15 september 2023

Revised: 12 october 2023

Accepted: 29 december 2023

Published: 01 february 2024

Abstract: Hatred is distinguished from the expression of democratic opinion by its harmful intent. Dissemination of hate speech on social media is characterised by its virulence (Zamora-Medina et al., 2021), especially when directed towards the political class, and particularly at women, who are challenged in a different way to their male counterparts (Soriano, 2019). This violence triggers an anti-feminist reaction (Wilhelm & Joeckel, 2018) characterised by extreme misogyny, reaction, and a tendency towards personal attacks. Thus, the aggression exerted by haters against this vulnerable group contaminates the public sphere and negatively affects the quality of democracies. On the basis of this state of affairs, this research seeks, through content analysis, to identify and analyse expressions of hatred directed towards the five female candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid (Isabel Díaz of the Partido Popular, Mónica García of Más Madrid, Rocío Monasterio of Vox, Alejandra Jacinto of Podemos, Izquierda Unida, and Alianza Verde, and Aruca Gómez of Ciudadanos) in the comments made on their official Instagram accounts during the May 2023 election campaign. In addition, it aims to examine hate discourses that may be related to both a female gender bias and other vulnerable groups through issues such as aporophobia or xenophobia, among others. The results show that hatred is directed towards female politicians with great intensity.

Keywords: Instagram; hate speech; social audience; Madrid; electoral campaign; woman.

Resumen: El odio se distingue de la opinión democrática por su intención dañina. La difusión del hate speech a través de las redes sociales se caracteriza por su virulencia (Zamora-Medina et al., 2021), especialmente cuando se dirige hacia la clase política y, en particular, hacia las mujeres que son cuestionadas en clave diferente a sus homólogos masculinos (Soriano, 2019). Esta violencia desencadena una reacción antifeminista (Wilhelm & Joeckel, 2018) caracterizada por su misoginia extrema, reactividad y tendencia a los ataques personales. De este modo, la agresividad ejercida por los haters contra este colectivo considerado vulnerable está contaminando la esfera pública y afectando negativamente la calidad de las democracias. Partiendo de esta realidad, la presente investigación tratará, mediante un análisis de contenido, de identificar y analizar las expresiones de odio dirigidas hacia las cinco mujeres candidatas a la presidencia de la Comunidad de Madrid (Isabel Díaz del Partido Popular, Mónica García de Más Madrid, Rocío Monasterio de Vox, Alejandra Jacinto de Podemos, IU y Alianza Verde, y Aruca Gómez de Ciudadanos) en los comentarios realizados en sus cuentas oficiales de Instagram durante la campaña electoral de mayo de 2023. Además, pretende examinar los discursos de odio que pueden estar relacionados tanto con un sesgo de género femenino como con otros colectivos vulnerables a través de temas como la aporofobia o la xenofobia, entre otros. Los resultados revelan el hecho de que la política desvía el odio hacia las mujeres políticas con gran intensidad.

Palabras clave: Instagram; Discursos de odio; Audiencia social; Madrid; Campaña electoral; mujer.

Resumo: O discurso de ódio distingue-se da opinião democrática pela sua intenção prejudicial. A disseminação do discurso de ódio através das redes sociais caracteriza-se pela sua virulência (Zamora-Medina et al., 2021), especialmente quando é dirigido à classe política e, em particular, às mulheres que são questionadas numa chave diferente da dos seus homólogos masculinos (Soriano, 2019). Esta violência desencadeia um backlash antifeminista (Wilhelm & Joeckel, 2018) caracterizado por extrema misoginia, reatividade e tendência para ataques pessoais. Desta forma, a agressividade exercida pelos haters contra este grupo considerado vulnerável está a contaminar a esfera pública e a afetar negativamente a qualidade das democracias. Com base nesta realidade, esta investigação tentará, através de uma análise de conteúdo, identificar e analisar as expressões de ódio dirigidas às cinco mulheres candidatas à presidência da Comunidade de Madrid (Isabel Díaz do Partido Popular, Mónica García de Más Madrid, Rocío Monasterio de Vox, Alejandra Jacinto de Podemos, IU e Alianza Verde, e Aruca Gómez de Ciudadanos) nos comentários feitos nas suas contas oficiais do Instagram durante a campanha eleitoral de maio de 2023. Além disso, pretende-se examinar o discurso de ódio que pode estar relacionado tanto com um preconceito de género feminino como com outros grupos vulneráveis através de temas como a aporofobia ou a xenofobia, entre outros. Os resultados revelam o facto de a política desviar o ódio para as mulheres políticas com grande intensidade.

Palavras-chave: Instagram; Discursos de ódio; Audiência social; Madrid; Campanha eleitoral; Mulher.

1. Introduction

The entry of women into political life is an ongoing situation in many democratic countries. Indeed, women’s participation in Spain’s parliament reached its greatest diversity in 2022, when the historical milestone of all of the country’s regional parliaments having female members was achieved for the first time. Nonetheless, progress towards gender equality is slow, as the proportion of women in parliaments around the world is 26.5% (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2023).

As their presence in the public sphere increases, extreme misogyny has also reappeared, giving rise to a violent discourse that puts female politicians in the position of a vulnerable group, as they are discriminated against in this role because they are women (Bonet-Martí, 2020). Accordingly, a discourse of hate emerges that seeks to “insult, intimidate or harass people for their race, colour, ethnicity or nationality, sex or religion” and which incites violence, hatred or discrimination against these people (Paz et al., 2020). In the case of female politicians, violence is directly aimed at them or their families, through face-to-face acts and, more intensely, online (Lacalle et al., 2023).

The UN Human Rights Council (2022) defines the digital dimension of violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence against women that is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs)” (p. 8). It also notes that the digital violence against women that is committed most frequently is the form that takes place on “privately owned internet platforms, including social media companies, mobile telephone communications technology, micro-blogging sites and messaging or dating applications, as well as some pornography websites” (p. 21). Hence, online violence against women who are involved in politics or hold public positions is manifested as cyberbullying, manipulation, disinformation and harassment (ONSTI, 2022).

In this context, social networks have acquired a significant role in the public debate, as they are the place where both citizens and politicians converge (González Aguilar, 2023). Consequently, the political class uses digital platforms for expressing opinions, self promotion, and making its agendas and governmental information visible (Ballesteros & Díez-Garrido, 2018). Meanwhile the electorate uses them to react, produce and disseminate their own content in this new setting (Rúas & Casero, 2018; Quevedo-Redondo & Gómez-García, 2023), something that favours violent, hostile, and unpleasant political messages going viral (Rodríguez et al., 2022; Blanco-Alfonso et al., 2022). Nonetheless, women who are involved in politics or hold public positions, are challenged in a different way to their male counterparts (Soriano, 2019; Durántez-Stolle et al., 2023).

This hostility towards women is usually more intense when they opine on or participate in topics that have traditionally been regarded as male domains, such as economics, justice and sport (Portillo, 2022); and it also increases when they tackle questions relating to the rights of women and other diverse groups and when they denounce gender-based discrimination (RELE, 2022). Moreover, although digital violence against women is not an isolated or recent phenomenon, given that it derives from “a context of gender-based discrimination, deep-seated cultural norms and systemic violence against women in all areas of their lives” (Human Rights Council, 2022, p. 9) acquires greater prominence at present given the relevance of social networks in the political sphere, especially during election campaigns. This moment requires careful consideration and analysis, as proximity to the elections intensifies gender stereotypes and promotes uncivil attacks (Poljak, 2022). Consequently, in the present research we examine expressions of hatred directed towards the five women who stood as candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid in comments made on their official Instagram accounts during the May 2023 electoral campaign.

1.1 State of the question

The growth of Instagram has occurred over little more than a decade. It was launched in 2010 to be “Twitter with images” (Cantón & Alberich, 2019, p. 2), but its rapid growth has meant that it has gone from being something of a fashion app to become a visual social network with great popularity in the political context when campaigning and connecting with voters (Selva-Ruiz & Caro-Castaño, 2017). According to figures from the We Are Social report, there were more than 21.90 million active Instagram profiles in Spain in 2023, while Twitter had 10.85 million users. Furthermore, the report notes that Instagram is the second most used social network (74.9%) by users aged from 16 to 64, exceeded only by WhatsApp (89.7%). This makes it an ideal channel for political leaders to carry out strategic, or even innovative, management that fosters the establishment of closer and more meaningful connections with the audience.

Specifically, Instagram has made it possible to run more dynamic electoral campaigns owing to its “visual packaging” (López & Doménech, 2018, p. 4, own translation), in contrast with text-based platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Its design fosters the “perception of mobility, instantaneousness and authenticity in visual communication” (Selva-Ruiz & Caro-Castaño, 2017, p. 904, own translation), with a strong impact on the public’s attention and helping with effective transmission of persuasive arguments (López & Doménech, 2018).

In the context of the elections in Community of Madrid, not all of the candidates for the presidency are known by the general public. In this case, the limited media visibility prior to the ballot of Alejandra Jacinto (PODEMOS-IU-AV) and Aruca Gómez (Ciudadanos) in comparison with their opponents, Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP), Rocío Monasterio (Vox) and Mónica García (MM-VQ), meant that this social network became a politically useful tool for promoting “electoral mobilization” (Filimonov et al., 2016) and the “strategic presentation of female candidates” (Losada et al., 2021, own translation), mixing elements of professional and personal life with great dynamism in their profiles. As mentioned above, this reality has created a space for the proliferation of verbal violence and “social execution” (Hernández-Santaolalla & Mármol, 2017, own translation) towards parties and their leaders.

Online hate discourse on social networks has increased as a result of political polarisation (OBERAXE, 2022), becoming ever more virulent (Moreno & Morales, 2022) and often difficult to control, as reported in the media.

News stories about hate discourse in networks towards female party leaders
Image 1
News stories about hate discourse in networks towards female party leaders


Source: El Periódico de España, ElPlural, The Objective.

One compelling explanation for this expression of cyber hate is the anonymity characteristic of social networks (Larsson, 2019; Moreno & Arroyo, 2022), which enables users to express private sentiments directly in public. A fact that creates a social hazard (Cáceres-Zapatero et al., 2022) and often results in the undermining of dignity and even safety (Zamora-Martínez et al., 2024). Furthermore, the fact that these expressions of hate remain in the digital realm for long periods of time, amplifies the potential harm that hostile content can cause to victims (Brown, 2017).

This regulation of hate discourses not only depends on the state or individuals, but also on the companies that run these platforms, which should filter out messages that attack others (González Aguilar, 2023). The dedication of these social networks to preventing violence towards women and to mitigating any harm is essential to guarantee the elimination of hate discourses on the internet. In relation to Instagram, the platform makes it clear that its intention in the app is to combat “abusive content, whether it’s racist, sexist, homophobic or any other type of abuse” (Mosseri, 2021). In practice, this social network automatically blocks messages that contain “offensive words, phrases and emojis” (Mosseri, 2021). In addition, Instagram has a reporting system that allows users to report abusive content.

Previous studies on hate discourse with gender bias associated with politics on social networks are still scarce. In this topic we have located publications that cover the topic “woman” and the question of hate discourse against women on Twitter (Piñeiro-Otero & Martínez-Rolán, 2021; Blanco-Alfonso et al., 2022). However, the role of female politicians has been subjected to a more exhaustive analysis, partly spurred by temporary circumstances such as their leadership during the pandemic (García-Beaudoux et al., 2023), general elections (Cáceres-Cardo, 2022) and the regional elections in the Community of Madrid in 2021 (Moreno-Díaz, 2022; Egea-Barquero & Zamora-Medina, 2023), and through the detailed analysis of the hate strategy within the context of these elections on Twitter (Herrero-Izquierdo et al., 2022), where the possible existence of a “hate crypto-discourse” between different political groupings is revealed.

Similarly, the focus of the present research was explored in a previous study on female candidates during the most recent autonomous elections in Aragón (Gascón-Vera & Zamora-Martínez, 2023). This revealed how the most virulent expressions of hatred are concentrated in posts relating to the televised debate, where female candidates are reproached for their economic level, lack of dedication and subjugation to men, at the same time that a redirection in the comments towards aporophobia (prejudice against the poor), racism and xenophobia is identified. This reflects how hate is directed towards vulnerable groups through topics such as migration (Arcila-Calderón et al., 2022).

Finally, other works were found that focussed on hate discourses against political ideologies on Twitter (Amores et al., 2021), and internationally, various current reports and pieces of research on gender-based political violence and sexist hate discourse on various social networks were found (Albaine, 2020; Sarapura, 2021). However, no specific works analysing digital violence against female politicians in comments on Instagram were found.

1.2. Objectives and hypotheses

On 2 May 2023, the Boletín Oficial de la Comunidad de Madrid [Official Gazette of the Community of Madrid] published the list of candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid. The general aim of this research is to identify and analyse the expressions of hate directed towards the five women who stood as candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid (Table 1) in comments made on their official Instagram accounts during the electoral campaign. This principal aim is complemented by the following specific objectives:

  • SO1. To identify the form and dynamic of expressions of hate in comments on Instagram during the 2023 electoral campaign, directed towards the women who ran as candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid.

  • SO2.To examine the comments that reveal a hate discourse associated with the position as women of female candidates during the electoral campaign. From this, we expect to identify what type of bias in inciting hatred emerges in the comments, as well as to explore the intersection between this hate discourse and that directed at other vulnerable groups.

Under these premises, the following research hypotheses are formulated:

  • H1. In comments aimed at female candidates, expressions of hate will be found with high intensity, expressed using insulting and degrading language that incites discrimination and reproduces gender stereotypes.

  • H2. Comments that incite hatred will reflect other vulnerable groups, as well as gender, especially xenophobia and aporophobia.

2. Material and methods

To identify expressions of hate speech in comments on Instagram during the electoral campaign that ran from 12 to 26 May 2023, the research was divided into two phases. First, the complete sample of comments generated on the 175 posts published by female candidates throughout this period was downloaded, comprising a total of 13,831 responses (Table 1). This process used the premium version of ExportComments.com.

Table 1
Composition of the corpus recorded by Instagram profile
Composition of the corpus recorded by Instagram profile


Source: own elaboration (data obtained 17/07/2023).

The final sample of comments was then selected. To do so, content that explicitly displayed hatred was manually filtered and then the definitive sample was obtained through simple random sampling (95% confidence interval and 5% margin of error). For the quantitative part, we used SPSS with the aim of carrying out descriptive statistical analyses of frequencies and crosstabs. Similarly, the research technique used is content analysis, owing to its capacity to examine communicative messages systematically, objectively and quantitatively (Wimmer & Dominick, 2010). Following this methodological premise, this study has required the design of a coding table comprising four sections (Table 2). The first block centres on the basic identifying attributes such as the video number, candidate, user, date of comment and number of likes obtained.

The second block is designed to identify hate discourse. This was done using the following categories: presence or absence of hate discourse; level of hate observed; direction of hate; features of the discourse; and term or emoji used. It is important to note that to avoid classifications based on gradations in the measurement of the level of hate, the authors adapted the categories proposed by Gitari et al. (2015) and Watanabe et al. (2018), referring to “extreme hate”, when the discourse incites violence; “hate-insult”, when the discourse represents personal or collective insults, fosters discrimination and reproduces stereotypes and falsehoods; “neutral discourse”, when the discourse lacks hate; and “upstander”, in the case of an alternative discourse that contributes to a counter-narrative, breaks with stereotypes or positions itself in favour of the groups that are objects of hatred.

The third block focusses on the manifestation of gender-based discrimination. Finally, the fourth block in the coding table tackles expressions of gender-based discrimination connected to other vulnerable groups.

Table 2
Coding table for analysing hate discourse
Coding table for analysing hate discourse







Source: own elaboration.






Source: own elaboration.

3. Results

The descriptive statistical analysis of frequencies and crosstabs in SPSS shows that almost 95% of the comments analysed display signs of hatred. Of these, approximately six out of ten (59.6%) are aimed at the candidate, which shows a high presence of hate directed principally at female politicians through their personal profiles on Instagram.

Hatred towards political parties and/or the political class represents 27%, while much less hatred is directed towards other groups, approximately 3%. 34 specific cases were identified in which hatred is associated with mentions of other vulnerable groups: 22 of these are xenophobic, 9 point to groups by age (8 refer to young people in difficulties labelled as “menas” (unaccompanied foreign minors) and 1 to older people), and 2 are linked to aporophobia. We then conclude that around 10% of the political debate present in female candidates’ comments includes an element of political hate that is directed towards other groups, especially towards immigrants. This is shown in the comment with the most likes from the sample analysed (a total of 85), which was published on the Instagram profile of Rocío Monasterio, and contains clear advocacy of xenophobia (Image 2).

Comment with the most likes on the profile of Rocío Monasterio
Image 2
Comment with the most likes on the profile of Rocío Monasterio


Source: Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CsYepyLLLnm/

This example highlights two additional questions. Firstly, it emphasises how the highest level of participation relates to ideological confrontation, with Mónica García, who stood for Más Madrid-Verdes, and Rocío Monasterio, who stood for Vox, being the candidates who received the most likes on the comments (Figure 1). This trend is especially apparent on two key dates, the 18th and 26th of May. Secondly, it is shown that the peaks of the most offensive comments occur during the autonomous debates, suggesting that these arguments are expressed impulsively while watching television.

Distribution of likes by candidates
Figure 1
Distribution of likes by candidates


Source: own elaboration using SPSS.

Within this analysis the distribution of the intensity of hatred is also notable. There is a high prevalence of insult (78.6%), over extreme intensity (9.6%) and upstander alternative discourse (5.9%). Nonetheless, it is important to note that the 31 cases of extreme intensity, despite being small in number, are of concern because of their potential to incite violence. Cyberbullying is predominant in the left-wing profiles (Figure 2), with Mónica García being the candidate who was the target of the most extreme hate, while in the sample analysed (Table 3), Aruca Gómez, did not receive this type of comments, something that could be due to her lower exposure.

Distribution of the level of hatred on the profile of each candidate
Figure 2
Distribution of the level of hatred on the profile of each candidate


Source: own elaboration using SPSS.

Another aspect to underline, without turning to quantitative data, is that the profiles of female candidates on the left feature hatred coming both from the right and from their own ideology. This is because the followers of groupings such as PODEMOS-IU-AV or MM-VQ respond with offensive comments towards conservative parties on the profile of the candidate they support. Accordingly, the most offensive comments directed towards Isabel Díaz Ayuso are principally found on the account of Mónica García, as part of a debate on political and ideological models.

Table 3
Extreme hate comments directed to each female candidate
 Extreme hate comments directed to each female candidate


Source: own elaboration.

As well as showing offensive and violent discourses, Table 3 also emphasises some variables that indicate that gender discrimination is personal. In fact, 23.6% of the sample analysed includes elements relating to hate discourse linked to gender discrimination, giving a total of 76 cases, almost all of which are directed at female candidates.

Specifically, 6% of the comments included references to physical aspects, such as criticisms of their bodies, in particular weight, as well as objectification of facial features such as the mouth and eyes, and the use of objectifying compliments. Some examples of this category are: “Qué ojos más…abiertos y las pupilas...😮😮😮😮” [What big eyes… and your pupils…😮😮😮😮]; “Tú tampoco pasas hambre…” [You’re not going hungry…]; “Tienes la cara como de un 🐷” [You’ve got a face like a 🐷] or “Lo que tiene de guapa no lo tiene de lista” [She makes up in looks for what she doesn’t have in brains] and “casi wapa” [almost pretty].

In the case of mental allusions, the percentage is 6.2. 9 cases relating to illnesses were detected, 8 of criticisms of mental health and 4 that cover both categories. There is a link between the two when in the case of drugs and supposed addictions, linking physical and mental aspects, as in the comment: “Ayuso se cayó en la marmita de la droga de pequeña 😮😂” [Ayuso fell in the drug cauldron when she was little 😮😂].

Finally, mentions of intellectual or professional aspects are more frequent, as almost half of the comments include them (44.4%). These criticise intellectual attributes (16 cases), general education or training (15 cases), capacity to practise their professions (33 cases) and political integrity (34 cases) or express wishes for them to fail in or abandon politics and/or the elections (32 cases) and sometimes cover various topics at the same time (13 cases). Furthermore, it is noteworthy that most of these mentions are classed as insults (Figure 3).

Relationship between level of hatred and intellectual and professional allusions
Figure 3
Relationship between level of hatred and intellectual and professional allusions


Source: own elaboration using SPSS.

On the other hand, there is evidence of a minimum scenario of questioning based on gender (Figure 4). This was only found in 2.5%, with the predominant category being sexual connotation with 3 cases (0.9%), noted in two examples of insulting comments: “No tienes tipo ni cara para esos ropajes, mejor en la intimidad” [You don’t have the figure or the face for those clothes, better in private] and “Vete a hacer la tijereta con la montero y ponte otra vakuna”, [Go scissor with montero and take another vaccine] and in one comment of extreme hate that incites violence: “PUES YO TE METIA UNA NARANJA EN LA BOCA Y TE COMIA EL COÑO HASTA Q SALIESE FANTA!” [I’D PUT AN ORANGE IN YOUR MOUTH AND EAT YOUR PUSSY TILL FANTA CAME OUT!]. However, it is important to note that the mentions of motherhood (0.6% - 2 cases) are exclusively directed towards the candidate Mónica García, and come both from her own Instagram profile – “MÉDICA Y MADRE. PUES YA SABES, PONTE LA BATA BLANCA Y DÉJANOS EN PAZ 😂” [DOCTOR AND MOTHER. YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO. PUT ON YOUR WHITE COAT AND LEAVE US ALONE 😂] – and from the profile of Rocío Monasterio – “🤣🤣🤣 la madre médico esta que no vale para na…” [🤣🤣🤣 that doctor-mother is worth nothing].

Gender questioning distribution by candidate and in total
Figure 4
Gender questioning distribution by candidate and in total


Source: own elaboration using SPSS.

With regards to the expression of features of hate discourse in the comments, the predominant formula was the use of intensifiers and attenuators (15.2%), above humour and irony (13.7%). More than half of the comments contain insults (53.4%), while emojis are not as frequent (19.3%). Consequently, as Figure 5 shows, a notable diversity in the comments is apparent, resulting in a heterogeneous discourse on the profiles of female candidates.

Distribution of dominant allusions and features of the discourse
Figure 5
Distribution of dominant allusions and features of the discourse


Source: own elaboration using SPSS.

This is a very varied and direct discourse, principally focussed on seeking to cause offence. To achieve this, a wide range of insults are used with two clear objectives: addressing female candidates (Image 3) or the political parties, through terms such as “peperros” (a term for PP supporters), “voxmitivos”, a portmanteau of the Vox political party and the Spanish word for an emetic, “ratas” (rats) or “desechos sociales” (social rubbish), or through competitive epithets such as “vagos” (idlers) or “ladrones” (thieves). From a qualitative perspective, the use of capital letters, spelling mistakes and separation of syllables in insults are also of interest. This suggests that Instagram users seek to stand out among other comments or that they try to avoid possible reports by not writing correctly, even though the meaning is clear, as in the following comments: “🐷 ra c1sdta” o “A SE SI NA” [“🐷 ra c1sdt” or “MUR DER ER”].

Word cloud showing insults directed at female candidates
Image 3
Word cloud showing insults directed at female candidates


Source: own elaboration using https://www.wordclouds.com/

Finally, a relationship is observed between the use of irony and the face with tears of joy emoji “😂”, which is the one used most frequently (7.5% - 24 cases). Through this emoji, users foster criticisms of the candidate’s education and training, as well as establishing references to political polarisation, as illustrated by the following example: “Hay que elegir entre ángel 😇 o demonio 👹” [We have to choose between an angel 😇 and the devil 👹]. Nevertheless, emojis were used in conjunction with hate discourses on 62 occasions, with the presence of emojis being significant in 6 out of ten (59.6% - 37 cases) (Figure 6).

Distribution of emojis used most often in hate comments
Figure 6
Distribution of emojis used most often in hate comments


Source: own elaboration using Excel.

4. Conclusions and discussion

This research analysed comments by Instagram users on posts by female candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid in the May 2023 electoral campaign. The results reflect the tension in the digital conversation and reveal a tangible hate discourse towards the political class in general with particular crudeness in the case of women.

The present research has located dynamics in which hate is expressed in relation to female candidates’ status as women during the 2023 electoral campaign in the elections for the presidency of the Community of Madrid.

Firstly, its alarming intensity on the Instagram social network has been identified, which responds more to media popularity than to the network itself, as the number of followers does not display any significant relationship with the number and tone of the comments received (Table 1).

Despite the presence of comments that include hate, it is crucial to identify their nuances. While a high incidence of this type of comments directed at female candidates on Instagram during the May 2023 electoral campaign, they do not seem to predominate principally for reasons of gender (at least, in quantitative terms). In contrast, their principal expression relates to political and ideological differences and polarisation. This suggests that while there is hate in the comments, an intense concentration of expressions of hate centred on the gender of female candidates is not perceived. In conclusion, their appearance has been found to be separate from female candidates’ physical or mental aspects and centres on criticisms of their integrity and professional capacity, expressing both personal hatred of an irrational nature that is directed around a twin desire: for political failure and for failure in their status as women, such as “Una persona que va pegando a embarazadas” [Someone who goes around hitting pregnant women], “presidenta de tu casa” [president of your house], “además de incapaz, eres muy tóxica para la sociedad” [as well as being useless, you’re highly toxic to society] and “a ti no te queremos ni recogiendo la basura” [we don’t even want you collecting the rubbish].

These nuances are a partial refutation of the present research’s H1, given that – as has already been noted – despite the high presence of hate in the comments aimed at female candidates, we have found no quantitative evidence that establishes that these comments incite discrimination and reproduce gender stereotypes, even though these comments evidently exist and are of interest from a qualitative point of view.

This last aspect is decisive for establishing a second aspect of the intersection of these dynamics with other expressions of hate that go beyond the political class and include groups that have traditionally been the target of this type of discourse. In this sense, the presence of a hate discourse directed at other vulnerable groups has been established in almost 10% and which, having little importance, quantitatively, reflect the latency of this discourse, especially when it is xenophobic in nature. Given the lack of future research that develops this question in greater depth, it is possible to infer that hate discourses display a logic of connected vessels where it is relatively easy to identify the co-occurrence of one category (in this case, hatred towards politicians, in particular, female ones) with hate discourses linked to other categories that express animosity towards groups identified as foreigners or outsiders (racism), as well as people in a situation of poverty (aporophobia).

In view of the premises set out above, the second hypothesis (H2), that comments that incite hatred not only involve gender but also reflect the presence of other vulnerable groups, is partially validated. This research has established the presence of a hate discourse directed at other vulnerable groups in almost 10% of the sample and which, despite being quantitatively of little importance, reflects the latency of this discourse, especially when it is xenophobic in nature. Nevertheless, this factor is aggravated as a result of another dynamic typical of social networks: the endorsement or approval of these comments by the community.

The interaction that the community accepts with the comments on the posts in this research reflects the appearance of other comments directed at express support or rejection, leading to a clash of visions that could increase political polarisation as different “sides” are established among the admirers and detractors of the politician and/or the comment in question. Nonetheless, a “more discrete” type of support takes the form of “liking” the comment. Although the absolute number of “likes” that hate comments receive is not significant, they stand out as they are the ones that are valued the most by the rest of the Instagram community. This silent support can empower users (and so promote their activity and intensity) who make comments that include hate discourses. Therefore, it is necessary to warn of the need to promote democratic debate in the media through a policy of moderation (Cabo Isasi, 2016) that counteracts the expression of political hatred.

Although there is a need for future research that considers in greater depth the complexity of the dynamics reflected in the present research, the results underline the need to tackle hate discourse in the digital political field, not only to protect the integrity of democratic debate but also to prevent the normalisation and propagation of intolerant attitudes towards vulnerable groups.

Authors’ contribution

Patricia Zamora-Martínez: Conceptualization; Methodology; Formal analysis; Resources, Investigation; Writing–original draft; Writing–review & editing; Supervision; Project administration. Patricia Gascón-Vera: Conceptualization; Investigation; Visualization; Formal analysis; Writing–review & editing. Salvador Gómez García: Conceptualization; Investigation, and Writing–review. All of the authors have read and accepted the published version of the manuscript. Conflicts of interest: The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Funding sources

This article is part of the “Politainment ante la fragmentación mediática: Desintermediación, engagement y polarización” (Politainment in the context of media fragmentation: Disintermediation, engagement and polarisation) project (Ref. PID2020-114193RB-I00), funded by Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation, and "Cartodiocom: Cartografía de los Discursos de Odio en España desde la Comunicación: ámbito deportivo taurino y político" (Cartodiocom: Cartography of hate speech in Spain from communication: sports, bullfighting and politics) project (Ref. PID2019-105613GB-C31), funded by Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Acknowledgments

The first authors are beneficiaries of the grants for restructuring the Spanish university system for 2021–2023. Margarita Salas modality. Programme funded by the European Union “NextGeneration EU/PRTR”.

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Author notes

* Margarita Salas postdoctoral researcher at the Universidad de Valladolid (UVa), Spain, guest researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Spain

** Margarita Salas postdoctoral researcher at the Universidad de Zaragoza (UNIZAR), Spain, guest researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Spain

*** Associate Professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Spain

Additional information

Translation to English : TRIDIOM, S.L.

To cite this article : Zamora-Martínez, Patricia; Gascón-Vera, Patricia; & Gómez García, Salvador. (2024). Hate Speech Towards Female Candidates in the Community of Madrid 2023, Gender Bias and Virulence. ICONO 14. Scientific Journal of Communication and Emerging Technologies, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.7195/ri14.v22i1.2079

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ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes

ISSN: 1697-8293

Vol. 22

Num. 1

Año. 2024

Hate Speech Towards Female Candidates in the Community of Madrid 2023, Gender Bias and Virulence

Patricia Zamora-Martínez 1, Patricia Gascón-Vera 2, Salvador Gómez-García 3






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