Some democracies these days seem to perceive themselves as fragile to the point that the use of sexist comments on social media directed at politicians represents a “threat” to democracy.
That’s the claim made by Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo, whose comment about this particular threat came after NATO produced a report about the number of what are understood to be sexist and misogynistic remarks made on social media about Finland’s cabinet, dominated by millennial women.
The report was compiled by the military alliance’s Special Center for Communication Strategy (Stratcom), that dedicated four months to analyzing 350,000 Twitter posts and finding that there has been an “extensive” number of such remarks made against the 12 women who sit in Finland’s 19-member cabinet, that is also led by a woman, Sanna Marin.
The NATO study was led by Rolf Fredheim who revealed for the Swedish broadcaster SVT that the algorithm used to pore through the hundreds of thousands of tweets was not smart enough to distinguish ironic or sarcastic terms from those simply meant to insult the government’s members based on their sex.
Some of the terms NATO found to be misogynistic or sexist include, “Lipstick Brigade,” “Tampax Team,” and “Feminist Quintet,” along with a number of profanities. The study found that male members of the cabinet were also on the receiving end of derogatory tweets, but disproportionately less so. NATO did not find any threat of physical violence against either.
And since the current Finish government is left-wing, those verbalizing their criticism in this way on Twitter are expectedly right-leaning, and unhappy with the cabinet policies around hot-button issues like Covid, immigration, and Finland’s relationship with the EU.
In addition to being a “threat to democracy” Minister Maria Ohisalo also commented on the findings to say they could discourage young women from engaging in politics.
This is not the first time the issue of sexism has been brought up concerning the government in Helsinki, that was formed in 2019. Estonia’s Interior Minister Mart Helme almost lost his job for calling Marin’s cabinet “non-educated street activists” and the PM herself a “sales girl.”
Helme, a conservative, ended up apologizing but also accusing the media of making too much of his comments.