Vindication, Virtue and Vitriol: A study of online engagement and abuse toward British MPs during the COVID-19 Pandemic

08/12/2020
by   Tracie Farrell, et al.
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COVID-19 has given rise to malicious content online, including online abuse and hate toward British MPs. In order to understand and contextualise the level of abuse MPs receive, we consider how ministers use social media to communicate about the crisis, and the citizen engagement that this generates. The focus of the paper is on a large-scale, mixed methods study of abusive and antagonistic responses to UK politicians during the pandemic from early February to late May 2020. We find that pressing subjects such as financial concerns attract high levels of engagement, but not necessarily abusive dialogue. Rather, criticising authorities appears to attract higher levels of abuse. In particular, those who carry the flame for subjects like racism and inequality, may be accused of virtue signalling or receive higher abuse levels due to the topics they are required by their role to address. This work contributes to the wider understanding of abusive language online, in particular that which is directed at public officials.

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