Hostility Towards Women in Readers’ Comments on Croatian News Sites

Author: Tamara Kunić


With the development of the Internet, it was expected that a global network of interconnected users, to whom digital technology had enabled broad aspects of communication, would advance democracy and bring important social issues to the center of public interest. Citizens can quickly and easily participate in the creation and sharing of media contents, and one of the most popular ways to participate in a public debate on the Internet is the readers’ comments setion on news sites. Various theorists (Habermas, 2006; Dahlberg, 2007; Borge Bravo and Santamarina Saez, 2016) have described how communication in online forums should be inclusive, argumentative, respectful, reflective and free. But numerous studies show that readers’ comments are often filled with hostility and even hate speech (Ksiazek, and Springer, 2020; Ruiz et al, 2011). Available research (Harmer and Lewis, 2020; Jane, 2014) shows that women are disproportionately more likely to be victims of online violence, harassment and unacceptable speech than men, but despite this, violence against women on the internet is still not regulated at the level of European Union (Blažinović Grgić, 2022; EIGE, 2017). This research contributes to these arguments by focusing on unacceptable speech directed at women, victims of violence. The aim of this paper is to investigate the extent to which citizens use unacceptable speech against women who are victims of verbal and physical conflicts in comments on Croatian news sites. Journalistic articles published on the most commented Croatian news sites and in the period from November 30, 2018 to May 30, 2019 were thematically grouped with the help of the Gephi system, in order to highlight key topics that attracted commenters and readers. Six topics were singled out from that corpus, i.e. 12 articles in which the victims of verbal or physical conflict were women. With methods of quantitative content analysis and sentiment analysis we analyzed 5041 reader comments. The results of the research showed that commenters have a predominantly negative sentiment towards the topics of violence against women. Hostility speech is present in 15.8 % of comments, and 4.7 % of hostility refer to women victims of the conflict, which indicates the existence of misogynistic rhetoric in the Croatian digital public space.

Key words: hate speech, online hostility, readers’ comments, violence against women
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