Social media platforms were rife with vile hateful comments against the Prime Minister after news of her COVID scare went viral.
Content Warning: Sexism and Misogyny
Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern recently came in contact with a flight attendant who tested positive for COVID-19, pushing her into isolation. The leader, who has been highly criticized for her relatively harsh lockdown restrictions, faced severe hate online when news of her isolation went viral. The New Zealand Herald, for instance, was forced to turn off comments on its Facebook post of the breaking news story. After turning off the comments, the social media administrator for the news outlet claimed misogyny and "the same tired jokes" about Ardern's pending test results were rampant in the comments section. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister tested negative for Coronavirus, The New Zealand Herald reports.
Ardern as well as Dame Cindy Kiro were forced to isolate on Saturday after a flight attendant on their flight from Kerikeri to Auckland tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID. A spokesperson shared at the time, "She remains asymptotic and continues to feel well." News of the COVID scare went viral online, where news outlets struggled to keep up with hateful and sexist comments. For instance, one person commented on a Facebook post by The New Zealand Herald, "'Forced.' She doesn't know what 'forced' is."
Another added, "If she could stay in isolation for a couple more years, that would be great!" Along similar lines, several Facebook users intentionally hoped Prime Minister Ardern would test positive for the virus. "Hope Jacinda has it," one person wrote. "I'm not gonna stop laughing." Another user stated, "Hopefully this Omicron silences her mouth... Or even better, reboots her brain. Either will do." Evidently, many of those commenting were motivated by sexist attitudes and a serious lack of empathy. Thankfully, some Facebook users as well as the social media administrator for The New Zealand Herald were quick to point this out.
One of the reasons why I think our PM is exceptional. She always acts in the country’s best interests and not her own. #ChurArdern Covid-19 Omicron variant: Jacinda Ardern cancels wedding as country moves to red, via @nzherald https://t.co/Q1bkyFunEG— Greg Presland (@GregPresland) January 22, 2022
"A lot of you wishing she tests positive so she gets a taste of her own medicine..." One user noted. "Reading some of these comments [is] unreal, man. Seriously." The highlight, however, was the social media admin's response. After spending a lot of time moderating the comments section, they simply turned off the ability for users to comment. They wrote, "Comments off. It's late. Herald social guy wants to sleep. Sad to see people celebrating anyone possibly catching COVID, whatever your political persuasion. Sadly, we also always expect to see the same tired jokes and misogyny on posts about the PM. Get better material. Also, Omicron is not the flu, it's a variant of [the] Coronavirus—the clue is in the name. Stay safe, kia kaha, better living everyone."
A-class social media moderation right there. pic.twitter.com/CojM2ybmwP— Carolyn Stebbing (@carolynstebbing) January 29, 2022
Soon after news of Ardern's isolation broke, her results were also revealed. Despite the wishes of trolls, she had tested negative. Nonetheless, this is but one example of the hate women are expected to navigate online. Online abuse against women, often called cybersexism or cybermisogyny, is prevalent across the internet. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, about 61 percent of women say online harassment is a major problem, while only 48 percent of men believe the same. Women have thus called on social media companies to enforce stricter rules against harassment. Social media administrators should not have to turn off the comments on their posts in order to prevent online abuse. Ardern's experience only reaffirms for swifter action.