Misogyny and misinformation: a long-standing relationship

Table of Contents:

There is an increasing body of work on the crises of misinformation, from post-truth to fake news, but little on the notion that misogyny is often at the core of misinformation campaigns. Yet, as media scholar Safiya Noble points out in her book Algorithms of Oppression, search functions in digital media have long peddled in racist terms of reference and images as a way to provide ‘information’ (Noble 2018). As she argues, those media sites with the most

titillating, racist, sexist and clickbait kinds of content are often elevated because they generate a lot of web traffic, and that makes money for all search engines. This is why disinformation and racism is so profitable, especially in the United States.

(Noble 2020)

Misogynistic misinformation is similarly profitable, which became quite clear in #GamerGate.

The conception of truth and notions of believability in the West have historically been inextricable from whiteness and masculine subjectivity. The truth has always depended on those who are authorised to define it and make it visible. That is, the concern around post-truth has become urgent when those who have defined the truth historically — primarily white, privileged men — begin to witness their truths being questioned, eroding, when they are potentially not believed. As Occenola points out,

Disinformation is one of many in the arsenal of weapons used by trolls and propaganda networks to attack and discredit opponents. It can take several forms, such as fabricated headlines, misleading captions, or falsified information. Female targets of disinformation, however, often face direct attacks on their identity as women.

(Occenola 2018)

Within this frame, it is helpful to consider the whole concept of misinformation, which depends on an assumption that the ‘information’ that the prefix ‘mis’ qualifies somehow represents the ‘truth’ or the ‘facts’.

Yet the same prefix in misogyny implies a much broader notion: the hatred and control of women. Those misinformation campaigns that directly challenge a dominant understanding of the ‘truth’ — such as politics, elections, et cetera — garner more public attention than misogyny, perhaps because misogyny is so deeply sedimented in structure, so normalised, that it becomes almost invisible as misinformation. Misogynistic misinformation campaigns do not, that is, represent a disruption or a crisis in everyday lives. They do, however, represent the centrality and normalisation of misogyny as a central part of that everyday life.

Notes

  • 1 I am deeply thankful to Jack Bratich, Inna Arzumanova, and Kat Higgins for their helpful suggestions in writing this chapter.
  • 2 Arguably, misogyny is also frequently part of ‘anti-journalism’ attacks by conservative groups as female media creators and journalists are often the target for these groups. See, for example, www.pohtico. com/story/2018/1 l/09/trump-cnn-white-house-access-980280.
  • 3 The deepfake ‘is a prototype of Artificial Intelligence. It is significant to note that a deepfake is more than just two videos that have been merged together to form one video by a person or group using advanced image-editing software (such as Adobe Premiere). Instead, the creation of deepfakes result from feeding information into a computer and allowing that computer to learn from this corpus over time and generate new content’ (Wagner and Blewer 2019).
  • 4 According to the National Sexual Violence Research Centre, studies show a lower extreme of 2.1 percent and an upper extreme of 7.1 percent of false reporting. www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_ NSVRC_Overview_False-Reporting.pdf.
  • 5 And it is interesting that ‘witch hunt’ references a specific historical phenomenon in which women were harmed and murdered on the basis of being suspect, unbelievable, untrustworthy, and uncompliant with patriarchal expectations. Discursively, it taps into an anxiety about truth, believability, and authenticity that is deeply gendered.

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