In 2015, world leaders pledged to end gender inequality in all forms by 2030, making gender equality a publicly established multilateral priority for the first time through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The world is making progress on advancing the goals of gender equality. However, there are still very few places where women enjoy full social, political, and equality to men. From, health and education to jobs and income, women and girls too often face barriers to achieving their potential simply because of their gender.
In the public digital sphere, there’s a substantial volume of content and messages and vigorous debate. The following research captures some examples of the gender equality debate and includes a spotlight on anti-gender equality narratives and profiles. This piece is part of a series of analyses and articles on the topic of gender equality and gender-based discrimination in the public digital sphere.
This analysis aims to address the following research goals:
- Identify the key narratives and arguments connected with the public digital debate around anti-gender equality narratives
- Identify the role and influence of users generating abnormal levels of activity in the debate and analyze the nature of their interactions in order to evaluate the possibility of malicious coordination or influence campaigns
- Understand the level of investment and impact of Facebook ads promoting anti-gender equality narratives
- Assess the nature of strategic demographic targeting of paid Facebook advertisements promoting anti-gender equality narratives as well as their associated advertisers and their corresponding arguments
Scope of Analysis & Key Research Objectives
To better understand key narratives, communities of users and content in the debate around gender-based discrimination and anti-gender equality movements in the public digital sphere, Alto’s team of data scientists conducted an in-depth analysis of the public digital conversation related to gender-based discrimination worldwide produced in the English, Spanish, and French languages between November 11th and November 24th of 2019. This period coincided with the 2019 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi as well as the global campaign of International Men’s Day.
Alto’s analysis detected, indexed, and analyzed a total of 379.54K results, produced by 247.42K users sharing 39.36K unique pieces of content in the public digital conversation on anti-gender equality narratives. English (90.46%) was by far the most prominently produced language in the debate, followed by French (6.47%), Spanish (3.01%), and Portuguese (0.06%). Further, the countries producing the highest proportion of the public digital conversation were the United States (14.57%), India (14.15%), the United Kingdom (12.48%), Nigeria (6.2%), Canada (2.12%), and Spain (1.87%). The body of this research also included an in-depth analysis of paid Facebook advertisements related to anti-gender equality narratives.
Key Narratives in the Debate on Gender Equality
Alto’s team of data scientists used Alto Analyzer, Alto’s proprietary cloud-based analytics platform, to analyze the high-frequency keywords used in public posts by users or in articles by journalists in relation to the public digital conversation on gender-based discrimination and anti-gender equality. Alto’s algorithms visually connect these high-frequency terms when they are mentioned simultaneously, or in the body of the same text, by the same users. This method enables unassisted, unbiased identification of the principal emerging narratives and an understanding of their complexity and richness through assessing the density of unique terms used within each narrative. This network includes the top 1,000 most frequently used keywords related to the conversation on gender equality, and these keywords represent 305,509 total results, equivalent to 80.4% of the total (379,540) results analyzed.
Four principal narratives emerged through an analysis of the key terms used in relation to the conversation on anti-gender equality and gender-based discrimination in the public digital sphere:
- International Men’s Day (34.27%): Global narrative with a special focus on the United Kingdom and the United States. It is seen as an opportunity to reduce high suicide rates among men, promote mental health support, raise awareness about prostate cancer, and break down stigmas and barriers to mutual understanding which are perceived as “hate” towards men. Men’s health is a key theme as well as masculinity and male emotions.
- #MENTOO (28.67%): This narrative emerges as a reaction to the #Metoo movement and a response to “toxic feminism” and allegedly false demands made by women. This narrative is generated mainly in India, with a smaller volume of this narrative produced in the US, Nigeria, and the UK. According to an article published by tribuneindia.com, the #MenToo movement claims that “men must unfairly contend with life-altering misinterpretations and career ruining false allegations being made by women.” The narrative also contains discussions about false rape cases and defines feminism as a cancer and a way to destroy men.
- Commission for Men’s and Father’s Rights (18.88%): This narrative is based largely in the UK and is followed in volume by India, the US, and Canada. This narrative emerges as an attempt to change laws that supposedly favor women. Such changes include calls for an official Men’s Commission or a government ministry for men. Likewise, discussions about separated fathers’ rights regarding their children are present.
- “Legal Terrorism” (11.19%): This narrative is based largely in India and mainly consists of a reaction to allegedly false allegations against men. Many conversations cover so-called “legal terrorism” and the “immunity” of women in cases of violence. Men call for justice by arguing that criminal law does not fairly account for the tenets of gender equality, as women commit crimes too. Moreover, there is a strong thread of criticisms against women who allegedly make false demands.
Several Communities Emerge in Connection with the Debate on Gender Equality
Alto’s team of data scientists used Alto Analyzer to build and identify the largest communities of users interacting in connection with the public digital conversation on gender equality. These communities were identified on Twitter in order to perform a topological analysis of the propagation of messages across the broader network of users. This resulted in a unimodal network of authors (giant component, edges being interactions). To determine the different communities and visually represent the resulting network, Alto’s data scientists applied clustering algorithms, like the Louvain Method for community detection, for example. Out of a total of 225,110 users and their 309,779 interactions (retweets, replies & mentions), those with zero algorithmic influence across the network were excluded. After filtering out users with no influence, the visualization below reflects a total of 198,722 (88.3%) users generating 290,214 (93.7%) interactions related to the public digital conversation on gender equality.
Six key communities driving the conversation were detected through an analysis of the most relevant users and communities interacting in relation to the debate:
- International Men’s Day & Men’s Mental Health (19.5%): This community largely addresses mental health issues and high suicide rates among men.
- International Men’s Day (7.5%): This community offers support for the role played by men in society, acknowledging male’s struggles and offering appreciation for their hard work – in addition to the other key pillars of International Men’s Day as previously referenced.
- Fake Sexual Allegations (6.8%): This community focuses on allegedly false allegations made by women. Within this community, users mention the case of the American actor, Scott Baio, as an example.
- International Men’s Day by LGBTQ Community (6.7%): This community supports and acknowledges transgender men in society.
- Women Voicing Support for Men (6.1%): Women supporting and offering appreciation for men for their role in society and encouraging male emotional and sentimental expression despite social stigmatization.
- “Misuse of law against men” in India (2.6%): This community calls for gender-neutral laws and criticizes women for misusing laws to exploit and take advantage of men.
Analysis of Abnormal High Activity Users
To determine if users producing abnormal levels of activity were present in the debate, Alto’s team conducted an analysis of users demonstrating a statistically anomalous frequency of activity in order to assess their frequency of posting. Alto’s analysts identified 478 (0.48%) users interacting with the highest frequency in the debate. These users produced a total of 60,010 posts over the period of analysis with an average of 36 posts per day. This amounts to 22.9% of total posts within the most relevant communities, as demonstrated in the corresponding data visualization, and 19.4% of the total posts in the network. The most active profile participating in the conversation produced 2,004 posts over the period analyzed, equivalent to 143 per day. As illustrated in the corresponding data visualization, the majority of the high activity users identified participating in the conversation were detected within the “Misuse of law against men” in India community.
Analysis of Paid Facebook Advertisements
In an analysis of the paid advertisements addressing the topic of anti-gender equality narratives, Alto’s analysts assessed advertisements provided by Facebook’s API during a period ranging from January 2018 to February 2019. Alto’s analysts detected a total of 60 paid advertisements espousing messages counter to gender equality narratives and are published mainly by non-profits and personal pages.
The following are key insights derived from the analysis of paid Facebook advertisements:
• In total, our analysts identified 60 advertisements promoting messages and narratives counter to gender-equality within the context of this analysis. Those came from 33 unique sponsors and generated between 458-783 million impressions.
• These advertisements are distributed mainly by non-profit organizations and personal pages. Advertisers in both categories support a conservative social ideology in favor of pro-life and Christian family values and in strict opposition to abortion and homosexuality.
• These sponsors spend between $1-$4 million USD in advertising costs to target key audiences and distribute their messages on Facebook.
• In terms of the distribution of impressions by geography, the highest rates of impressions are concentrated in the US. At 1.21 million impressions, Texas is the state with the highest concentration of impressions.
• Outside of the US, the top 10 regions generating the largest volume of impressions achieve between 13-135K impressions. These regions are Jerusalem, England, Andalusia, São Paulo, West Bengal, Canary Islands, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Catalonia, and Valencia.
• While in the US the ads call for the cancellation of feminist events and try to explain how feminism has a negative influence in schools, in other regions the ads promote a vision against the current, modern version of feminism, claiming that it aims to criticize, and reevaluate, and modify traditional values of womanhood and motherhood.
Key Themes of Paid Facebook Ads Promoting Anti-Gender Equality Narratives
In terms of impressions achieved by these paid advertisements, the United States gathers the highest number of impressions. Advertisers of the analyzed paid Facebook advertisements include non-profit organizations such as PragerU, Whispers of the Spirit, Citizens for Free Speech, The Catholic Association, Turning Point USA, and individuals such as Vito Glazers and Charlie Kirk. These categories are defined by Facebook and reflect Facebook’s internal classification criteria.
The ads with the greatest number of impressions address topics including:
• Ads calling for the cancellation of “feminist” events and demonstrations.
• Ads promoting awareness regarding the “threat” of feminism.
• Ads against articles that promote the regulation and legalization of abortion.
• Ads claiming that feminism corrupts institutions and has a negative influence in schools.
The content above can be accessed at the following links:
Strategic Targeting of Gender-focused Ads
Based on the demographic distribution of impressions achieved, advertisements espousing anti-gender equality narratives appear to be targeted (using Facebook’s built-in demographic targeting mechanisms) towards men between the ages of 55 and 64 based on the total volume of impressions achieved per demographic categorization. Demographic distribution of impressions indicates the target audience for whom an advertisement is programmed to reach while taking into consideration age ranges and gender (as selected by a given Facebook user). This demographic is of plausible interest for these types of paid advertisements for two reasons: 1) In the US, consistently conservative social and religious views tend to be more deeply embedded among older generations 2) The framing of women’s rights in the context of the feminist movement is illustrated as a threat to men’s rights and the established social order. Advertisers appear to seek sympathy for these views among a plausibly more conservative, older demographic.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
In revisiting and reevaluating the core research questions underpinning the analysis, our research yields the following key insights:
- Negative narratives regarding gender equality conversations included anti-feminism positions (in many cases propagated using the hashtag #MenToo), conversations around a proposed Commission for Men’s and Father’s rights, and so-called “legal terrorism” or damagingly false accusations made by women against men.
- Our analysts detected 478 profiles with suspicious high activity, representing 0.48% of the total users participating in the conversation. These profiles generated 19.4% of the total activity and averaged 36 messages per day.
- In an analysis of paid Facebook advertisements, Alto’s analysts identified 60 paid advertisements promoting anti-gender equality messages. These 60 paid advertisements came from 33 different advertisers and generated between 458-783 million impressions.
- These advertisements are distributed mainly by advertisers categorized as non-profits and personal pages. Both categories support an ideologically conservative view in favor of pro-life/anti-abortion and Christian family values while opposed to abortion and homosexuality. In total, these sponsors spend between $1-$4 million USD.
- Based on the demographic distribution of impressions achieved, advertisements espousing anti-gender equality narratives appear to be targeted (using Facebook’s built-in demographic targeting mechanisms) towards men between the ages of 55 and 64 based on the total volume of impressions achieved per demographic categorization. This is likely due to targeting of demographics that will be most receptive to the promoted narrative of the ads, in this case, the target demographic appears to be older and traditionally more conservative males.
- In assessing the distribution of impressions by geography, the highest rates are concentrated in the United States. Texas is the state where the highest figures are generated (1.21 million impressions). Outside of the US, the top 10 regions generating the largest volume of impressions all produce between 13-135K impressions. These regions are Jerusalem, England, Andalusia, São Paulo, West Bengal, Canary Islands, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Catalonia, and Valencia.
- In the US, ads call for the cancellation of feminist events and aim to explain how feminism is a negative influence in schools. In other regions, the ads promote a vision against the current, modern version of feminism, as it intends to critique and reevaluate traditional, conservative values of motherhood and parenthood.
After conducting a detailed and thorough analysis of anti-gender equality narratives in the public digital sphere, including an analysis of paid Facebook advertisements, Alto’s research provides evidence of narratives emerging in the public digital sphere which aim to counter the efforts of initiatives like the ICPD25 and pose opposition to principal themes promoted by the gender equality movement including women’s reproductive rights, the feminist movement, and women’s economic equality/equality in the labor force, among others. Thus, the presence of the narrative of men’s rights isn’t in itself problematic nor does it undermine the efforts of gender-equality-driven initiatives like the ICPD25, rather, the positioning of the men’s equality narrative as a discourse which is opposite to and in conflict with gender-equality and gender-based-discrimination narratives produces contentious debates which aim to detract from the core message of groups promoting gender equality in the social, economic, and political spheres.
This is part of a series of analyses and articles on the topic of gender equality and gender-based discrimination in the public digital sphere. Stay tuned for more!
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