Hate in Plain Sight: Abuse Targeting Women Ahead of the 2022 Midterm Elections on TikTok and Instagram

Authors: Cécile Simmons and Zoé Fourel

Published: 1 December 2022

Online abuse has a profound impact on the health of democratic societies, threatening progress on diversity and representation in politics. Research has shown that abuse can deter women and individuals from minority groups from pursuing careers in politics, and drive those already engaged to step down from political life. The 2022 midterm elections in the US saw a growing number of candidates from minority backgrounds running for office. Faced with growing public pressure, social media companies took steps to amend their policies and community standards to address illegal and harmful content and behavior on their platforms. Evidence has shown, however, that abusive image and video-based content can fall through the cracks of content moderation, pointing to a lack of adequate response from social media platforms. In the run-up to the November 2022 midterm elections, ISD investigated abusive content on Instagram and TikTok targeting prominent women in US politics. Researchers analyzed hashtag recommendations served to users on both platforms when searching for content related to several key women in US politics in the days before the election. This report finds that platforms recommend abusive hashtags when people search for the names of these female political figures, and also promote abusive content that violate their own terms of service, showing that harmful and abusive content targeting women running for, and in-, office remains in plain sight of the platforms.