After Trump’s 2019 tweet telling four congresswomen, known as “The Squad,” to “go back” to their home countries, the number of incivil replies to tweets made by the congresswomen almost doubled, new research finds.
Despite all four congresswomen — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — being U.S. citizens, many of the remarks echoed Trump’s sentiment that the congresswomen don’t belong holding office in the United States. In particular, two types of incivility towards the congresswomen increased significantly after Trump’s tweet — the use of stereotypes and threats to individual rights.
According to the researchers, these four women “represent the racial, gender and religious minority in the United States” and have been the target of a large amount of incivility online. This research provides insight into incivility on Twitter, particularly when it is directed towards members of minority groups.
“Conceptually, we were trying to figure out what incivility is,” said Itai Himelboim, a co-author of the study and the Thomas C. Dowden Professor of Media Analytics at Grady College. “Part of it is vulgarity, name calling and so on, but another element is a threat to one’s rights and democracy as a whole.”
To conduct their study, the researchers collected all replies to all tweets made by the four congresswomen from June 1, 2019, to August 31, 2019 — six weeks before and six weeks after Trump’s July 14 tweet.
Out of the total 102,815 replies to the congresswomen’s tweets during the time period, a sample of 20,563 were coded for 14 variables, including tones and popular topics such as immigration, Muslim ban, abortion, LGBTQ rights and more.
The researchers determined that just under two-thirds of all replies during the 12-week time period included at least one type of incivility. The findings also showed that, after Trump’s comments, the total number of replies to the congresswomen’s tweets jumped by roughly 20 percent.
Overall, the most common type of incivility used against The Squad was “name calling,” identified as using disparaging remarks, such as “idiot” or “stupid.” Second was “stereotype,” which was identified as associating an individual with a group and using terms, such as “Muslim,” in a derogatory manner. Third was “threats to individual rights,” which is implying someone should not have rights, such as freedom of speech. Fourth was “vulgarity,” which is the use of swear words.
Less frequent types of incivility included “aspiration,” which is making disparaging remarks about a policy, such as immigration, “pejorative wording,” which is using disparaging words about how someone is communicating, and “threats to democracy,” which is stating or implying a threat to the democratic method of governance as an ideal or system, such as advocating an overthrow of the government.
“We need to understand that it is more than being vulgar and calling names — not that there is justification for that — but it comes down also to threatening individual rights and threats to democracy,” said Himelboim.
The study, titled “‘You are a disgrace and traitor to our country’: incivility against ‘The Squad’,” was published in the journal Internet Research.
Additional authors include recent Grady Ph.D. graduate Bryan Trude (PhD ’22), Kate Keib (PhD ‘17), associate provost of non-traditional programs and an assistant professor of communication studies at Oglethorpe University, Matthew Binford (PhD ‘21), assistant professor of practice at Western Carolina University, Porismita Borah, an associate professor in the College of Communication at Washington State University, and Bimbisar Irom, an assistant professor in the College of Communication at Washington State University.