Women are severely underrepresented in political office in the United States. This project investigates whether incivility—a concept capturing a range of norm-violating behaviors such as ad hominem insults, vulgarity, stereotyping, threatening democracy, etc.—present in social media environments exacerbates this problem. Do uncivil social media environments put women candidates at an electoral disadvantage? The project will answer this question through a quantitative content analysis and an experiment. The research team will gather social media posts targeted at women candidates and their opponents from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram during the 2020 general election. Using a mix of human and computer-aided content analysis, the research team will uncover whether women are targeted with more (and more severe) types of social media incivility than men during a campaign, and whether these patterns are consistent across social media platforms. Additionally, using the patterns of incivility uncovered in the content analysis, we will conduct an experiment designed to test the effects of exposure to social media incivility on public opinion. Using these methods, the project offers a test of whether women candidates are more heavily targeted with incivility than men on social media, and advances prior research by examining platform differences (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), novel types of incivility (e.g., democratic threats), and the effects of exposure to uncivil social media environments on support for women candidates and desire to get involved in politics.
Associate Professor, University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc.