Online trolls impact local council participation

Online trolls to ‘Slut Shaming’ - the impact on women’s participation in local Councils

A new study, led by La Trobe University researchers, has found that women councillors experience more gender-based (on and off-line) incivility than men across the election campaign and during their first year in office.

The study highlights the impact hostility and bullying has on the willingness of women to put their hand up for local elections, with double the number of women than men reporting unwillingness to run in future elections.

Importantly Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and younger women are particularly impacted with most of the attacks coming from constituents fellow councillors.

The study, led by Professor Andrea Carson, from the Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, with Professor Leah Ruppanner and Dr Gosia Mikolajczak focused on the experiences of counclillors from Victoria’s 79 municipalities.

The longitudinal study surveyed more than 200 men and women councillors during the campaigning period and first year on council.

In depth interviews were also conducted to understand the nature of the abuse directed at younger women.

While the study found both men and women commonly experience high levels of incivility, women also experienced abuse about their gender, which was uncommon for men councillors.

At the local Council level, Australian women are increasing their overall representation in local government over time, but still lack parity with men.

In Victoria, women account for 43.8% of elected local representatives following the 2020 election.

The Labor Victorian State Government has set a target of 50:50 representation by 2025.

Professor Carson pointed to the Victorian Council elections next occurring in 2024.

“This gives women one more election cycle in the four-year local government term to achieve this target and to address obstacles to attracting and retaining women, so knowing what some of these obstacles, are - is crucial,” Professor Carson said.

“In particular, one key obstacle is incivility or disrespect towards women.”

According to the researchers, uncivil behaviours are characteristically rude, discourteous, displaying lack of respect for others and examples of incivility include making derogatory remarks about someone, ignoring them or using a condescending tone when talking to them.

“The scope and breadth of incivility is broad and may be a central driver for women leaving local politics," Professor Carson said.

In respect to generalised incivility the study found that:

  • During the election, men and women councillor’s experienced similar levels of incivility
  • But during the first year in office, women report more incivility (is there a percentage we can put here?)
  • Younger councillors reported more incivility during the election and in their first year in office than older councillors.
  • During the election period, CALD-identifying councillors did not experience greater incivility – but they did in their first year of office

Regarding gender-based incivility the study found:

  • Women report more gender-based incivility than men during the election period and into the first year in office
  • Younger councillors reported more gender-based incivility during the election period and into their first year in office
  • Those in metropolitan areas, compared to regional areas, reported no different experience of gender-based incivility during the election period but did report greater experiences during the first year of office

According to Professor Carson, the key finding of this study, is that women councillors experience more gender-based incivility than men across the election campaign and during their first year in office.

“Thus, women councillors are carrying the heavier burden of greater overall and gender-based incivility over their entire experience contesting an election and representing constituents,” Professor Carson said.

“Importantly, CALD and younger women are particularly impacted and most of the incivility came from constituents and alarmingly, from fellow councillors suggesting inadequate training or adherence to professional conduct policies.”

The study found:

  • 16% of respondents indicated that they would not run for council in the next elections, equally divided across men and women
  • A higher number of women (56%) than men (27%) said they did not intend running in future elections citing experiences of hostility and bullying as one of their top three reasons for not contesting.
  • The incivility that younger women had encountered came from a range of perpetrators – most commonly the public, closely followed by fellow councillors and then the media. It occurred both face-to-face and online

Media: Courtney Carthy - 487 448 734