The Gender Dimensions of Foreign Influence Operations
Drawing on a qualitative analysis of 7,506 tweets by state-sponsored accounts from Russia’s GRU and the Internet Research Agency (IRA), Iran, and Venezuela, this article examines the gender dimensions of foreign influence operations. By examining the political communication of feminism and women’s rights, we find, first, that foreign state actors co-opted intersectional critiques and countermovement narratives about feminism and female empowerment to demobilize civil society activists, spread progovernment propaganda, and generate virality around divisive political topics. Second, 10 amplifier accounts—particularly from the Russian IRA and GRU—drove more than one-third of the Twitter conversations about feminism and women’s rights. Third, high-profile feminist politicians, activists, celebrities, and journalists were targeted with character attacks by the Russian GRU. These attacks happened indirectly, reinforcing a culture of hate rather than attempting to stifle or suppress the expression of rights through threats or harassment. This comparative look at the online political communication of women’s rights by foreign state actors highlights distinct blueprints for foreign influence operations while enriching the literature about the unique challenges women face online.