Understanding the Gender Dimensions of Disinformation

0. Overview - Gender & Disinformation

Updated On
Apr 01, 2021

Written by Victoria Scott, Senior Research Officer at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems Center for Applied Research and Learning


Around the world, women and people who challenge traditional gender roles by speaking out in male-dominated spaces—such as political leaders, celebrities, activists, election officials, journalists, or individuals otherwise in the public eye—are regularly subjected to biased media reporting, the spread of false or problematic content about them, and targeted character assaults, harassment, abuse, and threats.  Any woman, girl, or person who does not conform to gender norms and who engages in public and digital spaces is at risk, although the public may be most familiar with this behavior directed toward women leaders. Women who hold or seek positions of public leadership often find themselves facing criticism that has little to do with their ability or experience—like the criticism typically encountered by men in those same positions—and instead face gendered commentary on their character, morality, appearance, and conformity (or lack thereof) to traditional gender roles and norms. Their representation in the public information space is often defined by sexist tropes, stereotypes, and sexualized content.  While not a new challenge, this phenomenon is increasingly pervasive and has been fueled by technology. Although this type of online malice is often directed at women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in the public eye, any person who deviates from gender norms risks being exposed to this type of abuse.

For donors and implementers, understanding the intersection of gender and disinformation is imperative to designing and delivering comprehensive and effective programming to counter disinformation and hate speech and promote information integrity. Without considering the different ways in which women, girls, men, boys, and people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities engage in the digital information environment and experience and interpret disinformation, donor and implementer efforts to counter disinformation will not reach the individuals who are among the most marginalized in their communities. The impact and sustainability of these interventions will therefore remain limited. Analyzing disinformation through a gender lens is imperative to designing and implementing counter-disinformation programs in a way that both recognizes and challenges gender inequalities and power relations and transforms gender roles, norms, and stereotypes. This approach is necessary if donors, implementers, and researchers hope to effectively mitigate the threat of disinformation.

An increasing body of research and analysis explores the role of gender in disinformation campaigns, including the gendered impacts of disinformation on individuals, communities, and democracies. While this research presents a compelling case for funders and implementers to view information integrity and counter-disinformation programming through a gender lens, current programming is often limited to interventions to prevent or respond to online gender-based violence or to strengthen women’s and girls’ digital or media and information literacy. These are important approaches to strengthening the integrity of online spaces and responding to the information disorder, but a greater range of programming is both possible and necessary. 

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This section of the guidebook is intended to be a resource to assist donors, implementers, and researchers to apply a gender lens when investigating and addressing information integrity and disinformation.It will also assist funders and practitioners in integrating gender throughout all aspects of counter-disinformation programming.

The section begins by briefly outlining why counter-disinformation programming must be viewed through a gender lens.

The section then defines the term “gendered disinformation” and the gender dimensions of disinformation in each of its component parts (actor, message, mode of dissemination, interpreter, and risk).

The section closes with a look first at the current approaches to countering disinformation with gender dimensions and then at some promising new approaches for gender-sensitive counter-disinformation programming. While gender-sensitive programming and good practices are still emerging in the information integrity field, this section of the guidebook offers promising approaches based on known good practices in related fields.Specific examples of integrating gender into counter-disinformation interventions are also included throughout the guidebook’s thematic topics.