Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

We’ve all seen this finding before: men who communicate their ideas forcefully are seen as assertive and as having leadership qualities. Women who communicate their ideas forcefully are judged more harshly and negatively. What about hate speech on social media? Are women judged more harshly than men there? 

Please. You really have to ask? Of course women are judged more harshly for hate speech on social media! 

And it doesn’t matter if you are a woman speaking hate or speaking what is called “counter [hate] speech” You are going to get blasted either way. This new article was published in the journal Sex Roles and is available open access here. The researchers asked male and female participants to read hate speech attributed to male and female authors and to identify which comments they would individually ‘flag’ to alert the moderators of an inappropriate comment in the online arena. 

Here is what the authors say about what participants in the research did when they encountered hate speech said to be written by women:

In the specific case of comments [women wrote that were] directed against women and sexual minorities, hate comments by female authors are perceived as an act of double deviance [since women are expected to be kind] and are therefore sanctioned more strictly than such hate comments by men. 

The researchers also found that women were equally critical of other women as were men (which we see often during litigation and in pretrial research—with women sometimes being even more critical of other women). 

And, as you might expect, when the researchers asked participants in their study what hate speech comments they would ‘flag’ to alert the moderators—both men and women would flag women’s hateful comments at a higher rate than they would flag similar hateful comments by men. 

However, both sexes equally judged hate comments by women and men differently resulting in a backlash effect against women indicated by higher scores of flagging a comment made by a woman than flagging a comment made by a man. 

As the authors review their findings they comment that gender shapes morality. They explain that conclusion by saying that women are more concerned about fairness and avoiding harm to others than men are (at least in online forums where both genders flag offensive comments). Deviant and agentic online behavior by women is judged more strictly than such behavior by men (and judged more strictly by both men and woman). 

The authors conclude with this intriguing comment that we would all do well to remember: 

Gender not only shapes people’s morality but, and even more relevant to our study, pre-determines what is seen as socially deviant and what is not. Regardless of the gender of the one evaluating the comment, intentions to flag hate speech and counter-speech comments increase if the commenter is a woman.

We work to identify bias and stereotypes wherever we can and it is always a part of litigation advocacy. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study teaches an invaluable lesson:

Sometimes, it is easy to fail to recall that for women, racial or ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, and all others who are “different” for one reason or another—just being who they are elicits automatic bias and differential treatment. 

The task for the litigation advocate is to figure out how to make the out-group member more understood, and mitigate that automatic bias. 

Gendered Morality and Backlash Effects in Online Discussions: An Experimental Study on How Users Respond to Hate Speech Comments Against Women and Sexual Minorities by Claudia Wilhelm and Sven Joeckel in Sex Roles. Published May 7 2018. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-018-0941-5 

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