One of the objectives of disinformation is to harm a certain person or group. On a recurring basis, this occurs with women who are in the public sphere and who become the target of hoaxes that seek to ridicule their figure. With this, they seek to discredit their discourse, sometimes putting into their mouth statements that mock initiatives proposed by them to belittle their work.
In Spain, this occurs particularly frequently with representatives of political parties, including some such as Irene Montero, María Jesús Montero, Yolanda Díaz, or Isabel Díaz Ayuso. In many cases, the false statements ridicule political initiatives with comments related to feminism, so the hoaxes are also used to denigrate and generate rejection of the feminist movement. However, misinformation is not exclusive to politics, since personalities such as the activist Greta Thunberg or the actress Amber Heard have also been peppered with hoaxes from these narratives.
Attacks on a public official for being a woman through “expressions that attempt to ridicule and belittle” her figure are considered a type of political violence, as explained to Newtral.es Arantxa Elizondo, tenured professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Basque Country. The former Minister of Equality Bibiana Aido (PSOE), in an interview with Newtral.es, also mentioned this concept, relating it to the “aggressions” he received during his time in charge of the portfolio between 2008 and 2011.
In his speech on the occasion of International Women’s Day in 2023, the Secretary General of the United Nations Organization (UN), Antonio Guterres, made reference to the negative influence that the dissemination of false content has on women. “Misogynistic misinformation flourishes on social media platforms. What is known as ‘troll of gender’ is specifically aimed at silencing women and forcing them out of public life. The stories may be false, but the damage that is done is very real,” Guterres said.
At Newtral.es we have made a compilation of the hoaxes shared in the last year that attribute false statements to women to ridicule their figure.
Irene Montero and representatives of Unidas Podemos as recurring targets of hoaxes that seek to ridicule women
Some of the women against whom hoaxes have been spread with the aim of ridiculing them are, for example, representatives of United We Can. On a recurring basis, publications circulate on social networks that put into the mouths of these policies various false statements of which there are no records and which have been denied by official sources. Also, many of these statements are, in turn, related to supposed initiatives to combat machismo.
One of the clearest examples is that of the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, victim of numerous hoaxes about alleged opinions that he would have expressed regarding initiatives of the Ministry that he heads. For example, in December 2022, after the publication of the code of ethics on children’s advertising, messages were shared stating that Montero “intended to prohibit parents from giving their daughters dolls at Christmas.” However, the code of ethics did not establish a similar prohibition and the Ministry denied that Montero had raised an initiative of these characteristics.
These false contents about the minister have circulated more frequently since she was appointed to the position in January 2020. Montero is not the only one, since other representatives of UP and who are part of the Ministry of Equality have also been splashed by hoaxes that seek to ridicule her figure. are the cases of Angela Rodriguez ‘Pam’, Secretary of State for Equality, who falsely claimed that he wanted to prohibit the Christmas Lottery prize from being called “fat” for “sexism, machismo, bullying and fatphobia”; and Ione Belarra, Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda, who was accused of “forcing fish farms to reduce the noise of the machines so as not to disturb the fish.”
On another occasion, the Minister of Labor and Social Economy and second vice president of the government, Yolanda Diaz, was also a victim of this type of content. According to viral publications, Díaz would have praised the basic shopping basket launched by a supermarket for “leaving out meat products, one of the main axes of toxic masculinity.” The statements had supposedly been published by the newspaper Publicbut the newspaper denied having done so in a statement and messages on social networks impersonated the identity of the outlet.
María Jesús Montero, Teresa Ribera and Adriana Lastra: PSOE politicians who are also victims of this type of misinformation
The representatives of Unidas Podemos are not the only ones exposed to hoaxes that seek to ridicule women in the public spotlight. Female leaders of other political parties have also been peppered with this type of misinformation, such as the Minister of Finance and Public Function, Maria Jesus Montero. In March 2022, publications circulated in which Montero allegedly stated that “for those who think that gasoline is expensive, perhaps they should consider buying (sic) an electric car.” However, there was no sign that the minister made such a statement and the account that shared the viral content was a satirical profile that posed as the newspaper. abc.
Other PSOE policies have also been peppered with false content in which the name of a well-known media outlet is used to give credibility to the alleged statements ridiculing the woman. For example, according to viral publications, the Minister of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge and Third Vice President of the Government, Teresa Ribera, would have affirmed that “lighting in winter with candles is the price to pay to save democracy”. But Ribera’s press office denied to Newtral.es that the minister had made the statements attributed to her and the viral messages supplanted the newspaper The world.
Another example is that of the former deputy general secretary of the PSOE, Adriana Lastra, who allegedly shared a tweet saying that Spain “will be reborn from its ashes like Felix the cat.” The viral message had been circulating for years and went viral again in 2022, but it was a montage and sources from the Socialist Party denied to Newtral.es that Lastra had published the tweet.
Ayuso, Colau or Teresa Rodríguez: the ridicule of women beyond national politics
Disinformation that seeks to ridicule women by attributing false statements to them has also occurred in local and regional politics, and these hoaxes are not only related to women from left-wing political parties. The president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayusoalso became a target of disinformation when a screenshot of an alleged tweet was shared in which Ayuso “confused” the professor and economist Juan Velarde, who died on February 3, 2023, with the military man Pedro Velarde —historical figure of the uprisings of May 2, 1808. But it was a montage.
In another case, another false tweet claimed that the president had said that Madrid is a welcoming place, “whether you are a Jew or a normal person.” The content that circulated through social networks was an alleged tweet from the PP of the Community of Madrid citing the statements. However, it was a montage that supplanted the official account of the party, as confirmed by the formation’s press area to Newtral.es.
Other cases were those of the mayoress of Barcelona, Ada Colau, who allegedly stated that “implementing a male curfew at night can be positive for Barcelona”; and the former leader of Adelante Andalucía, Teresa Rodriguez, which would have highlighted, as a supposed “priority” of Andalusia, “restoring the values of coexistence and multiculturalism of the Umayyad Caliphate.” But both cases were hoaxes.
Ridicule women who stand out in the public sphere: the hoaxes about Greta Thunberg or Amber Heard
Outside the world of politics, other women are also a recurring target of hoaxes that seek to ridicule their speech, as is the case of the environmental activist Greta Thunberg. The young woman has been surrounded by multiple disinformation campaigns that attribute statements related to initiatives to combat climate change to her, but which were not pronounced by Thunberg.
For example, messages circulated assuring that the activist had “asked the Chinese to stop using chopsticks to eat and thus save hundreds of trees”, but her press team confirmed that the claims were false. On another occasion, posts were shared claiming that the activist had “cancelled a conference on global warming due to freezing temperatures in the Arctic.” However, it was content published on a satirical portal in 2019 and there was no sign that Thunberg had canceled an act due to low temperatures.
Likewise, the actress Amber Heard was caught up in a disinformation campaign in May 2022, during the trial between the actress and her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. One of the most widely shared hoaxes claimed that Heard said that she was thinking of opening an account on the OnlyFans social network, supposedly to pay compensation to Depp. But the video was manipulated and corresponded to an interview recorded in 2013. Likewise, Heard did not plagiarize a fragment of the film ‘The talent of Mr. Ripley’ in a speech during the first day of the trial, as we denied in Newtral.es.