A new report reveals the horrifying abuse sent on Twitter to America’s first woman of colour Vice President – but such racist hate is becoming normalised in the US

US Vice President Kamala Harris has been the target of hateful and violent abuse online and Twitter has failed to react, a new report has found.

The Bot Sentinel research comes at a time of rising and mainstreamed white supremacism in the US, and a white nationalist movement emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump was famously endorsed by white supremacists such as Klu Klux Klan Leader David Duke; referred to “fine people on both sides” following the Unite the Right rally; and hired high-ranking staff members with far-right beliefs and ambitions

He told the far-right Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by” during Black Lives Matter protests – a former member said that Trump was “speaking their language“.

The report also comes as the tech billionaire Elon Musk has bid to own Twitter, with the promise that he will restore freedom of speech to the platform. Human rights campaigners have expressed concern that this will allow more racist and sexist language to proliferate – not least because Musk has endorsed Trump’s return to the social media network. The far-right US activist Nick Fuentes celebrated the prospect of a Musk-led Twitter. Fuentes openly mocked Kamala Harris over her stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Abuse uncovered by the report includes tweets using racist and misogynistic language, and men sharing manipulated photos of Harris engaging in lewd sex acts. 

A total of 4,265 problematic and disparaging tweets about Harris were sent in the first 135 days of 2022. However, of the 40 tweets reported to Twitter, only two were removed by the social network.

Tweets that were allowed to remain included those referring to Harris as the n-word. A tweet discussing assassinating the Vice President was removed but the account was allowed to remain active. 

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Normalised Hate

The scale of online hate directed at Kamala Harris fits a pattern of increasingly overt and normalised racism and white supremacy on the US right and far-right. 

On 14 May, a white supremacist murdered 10 people, the majority of whom were African American, in Buffalo, New York. A manifesto published by the killer indulged in far-right conspiracy such as the ‘Great Replacement’.

While such extremist hate used to exist on the fringes of society, ideas like the Great Replacement are now becoming mainstream.

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is an elected politician, but that did not stop her from attending the America First Political Action Conference – a gathering set up by white nationalist Nick Fuentes who has referred to the conspiracy as the “Great Replacement reality”. 

Meanwhile, Republican law-makers have declared war on African American culture and literature, banning books that it considers to promote ‘critical race theory’ – an academic discipline that has become public enemy number one to the white nationalist right. Censored books include Beloved by Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison. 

Perhaps the most blatant example of mainstreamed support for white supremacy has been the response to the 6 January insurrection, where known far-right militias such as the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers stormed the US Capitol with plans to take politicians who had voted to confirm Joe Biden’s election hostage. 

Following the events that day, during which four people lost their lives, various Republicans backtracked from their initial condemnation of the insurrectionists, calling the attack “legitimate political discourse”.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz had initially said the event was a “violent terrorist attack”, before revising his assessment when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson called him “dumb”. Cruz told Carlson that he would never use the word “terrorist” to describe the “patriots” that were at the Capitol that day. 


A Chilling Effect

While women are more likely to experience abuse on social media platforms, women of colour are disproportionately targeted and suffer the intersection of misogynistic and racist attacks.

A report by Amnesty International into online abuse of women found that Diane Abbott, who at the time was the most senior black woman MP in the UK’s Labour Party, had received half of all the abuse sent to MPs during the 2017 General Election. Abbott reported that abuse against her increased after the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess by a Muslim extremist last year. 

Abbott, who was the first black woman MP when she was elected in 1987, has spoken about the impact of the abuse on herself and her staff. She warned that the levels of abuse risked putting women, and black women in particular, off entering politics. 

Those warnings have been echoed by numerous women in public life.

MPs from across the political spectrum who stood down in the 2019 General Election have spoken about how online abuse played a part in them leaving politics. Speaking to Channel 4’s Dispatches, former Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in tears as she described the abuse she received and how it led to her changing her career. “It was a shame,” she said. “As I felt like I could have done some good.” 

Allen was speaking to Kim Leadbeater, the Labour MP whose sister Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016. Leadbeater herself was the target of misogynistic and homophobic abuse when she stood for election in Batley-on-Spen, Cox’s former constituency, in summer 2021.

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