Abuse in the time of COVID-19: the effects of Brexit, gender and partisanship

Bakir, Mehmet Emin; Farrell, Tracie and Bontcheva, Kalina (2024). Abuse in the time of COVID-19: the effects of Brexit, gender and partisanship. Online Information Review (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-07-2022-0392


The authors investigate how COVID-19 has influenced the amount, type or topics of abuse that UK politicians receive when engaging with the public.

This work covers the first year of COVID-19 in the UK, from March 2020 to March 2021 and analyses Twitter abuse in replies to UK MPs. The authors collected and analysed 17.9 million reply tweets to the MPs. The authors present overall abuse levels during different key moments of the pandemic, analysing reactions to MPs by gender and the relationship between online abuse and topics such as Brexit, the government’s COVID-19 response and policies, and social issues.

The authors have found that abuse levels towards UK MPs were at an all-time high in December 2020. Women (particularly those from non-White backgrounds) receive unusual amounts of abuse, targeting their credibility and capacity to do their jobs. Similar to other large events like general elections and Brexit, COVID-19 has elevated abuse levels, at least temporarily.

Previous studies analysed abuse levels towards MPs in the run-up to the 2017 and 2019 UK General Elections and during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The authors compare previous findings with those of the first year of COVID-19, as the pandemic persisted, and Brexit was forthcoming. This research not only contributes to the longitudinal comparison of abuse trends against UK politicians but also presents new findings, corroborates, further clarifies and raises questions about the previous findings.

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The peer review history for this article is available at: https://publons.com/publon/10.1108/OIR-07-2022-0392

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