Shreya Agarwal, Urvashi Patel, and Joyojeet Pal
(to cite: Agarwal, S., Patel, U., Pal, J. (2022) “The Indian Anti-feminist movement on Twitter” accessed online at: https://joyojeet.people.si.umich.edu/antifeminist/)
An anti-feminist movement has grown in India online since the MeToo movement. While it is driven by spurts, there has been a consistent flow of content that argues that women take undue advantage of laws and norms, primarily those that aim to protect women in situations of domestic abuse. As we examine the data, we find intersecting communities – those that align with reactionary positions on the role of women in social and cultural life.
The activity around Men’s Rights on Twitter became significant on social media as a response to #MeTooIndia, making the use of the hashtag #MenToo, and highlighting allegedly false cases filed against men. The movement claims to push for what it sees as a need for gender neutral laws, specifically in cases of marital disputes, sexual violence and child protection laws.
Before we proceed, we highlight that this paper includes several tweets and conversations that could be disturbing to readers. While we have removed identifying information, and filtered highly offensive content, even the material we are willing to show here is misogynistic and abusive on multiple levels. Viewers are advised to use discretion accordingly.
We began by collecting tweets that used #MenToo, using the Twitter API’s full archive search tool. Once we collected a seed set of historical tweets, we created a table of co-occurring hashtags, and manually annotated the hashtag where there was a gender component. Using this method, we expanded our search to include hashtags like: #MaritalRape, #boycottmarriage, #marriagestrike, #MenToo, #FeminismIsCancer, #womanisaburden, #UnconstitutionalCRPC, #MensRightsMatter, # ABLANARI, #मर्दअसुरक्षितहै, #विवाह_बहिष्कार and #AblaNaariSyndrome, which were more prominently used on Indian Twitter.
We then used the Twitter API’s full archive search tool to collect tweets containing any of these hashtags. While there is a sizable subset of #MenToo activity online on Twitter outside of India that does not take an explicitly anti-feminist stance, the use of #MenToo within India remains overwhelmingly anti-feminist. There is however a transference of much discourse between the global issues around #MenToo and the activity on Indian Twitter, with perhaps the most significant case being that of the Depp v Heard trial.
To ensure that the sample we collected has minimal messaging that does not originate in, or pertain to India, we conducted a ground truth analysis to filter out non-Indian content. This involved the direct exclusion of tweets and hashtags that were not India-specific, as well as identifying accounts from which such content emerged, and removing them from the sample.
We split the data collected into two samples we’ll refer to as Sample 1 and Sample 2 from now on.
Sample 1: Timeline Sample of MRA-specific Accounts Archive
To identify trends and patterns in tweeting activity, we use data collected from 1st November 2021 to 1st November 2022. We believe a longer time period gives us more insights into coordinated efforts made by the MRA community. There are 10,74,999 total tweets in this sample, out of which 1,33,855 are original posts and the remaining are either retweets, quotes or replies. A set of 65,919 unique twitter accounts participated in discourse using the abovementioned keywords for the time period of this sample.
Sample 2: Marital Rape Judgment Tweets
To capture activity regarding the judgment made by the Indian Supreme Court on 29th September in which marital rape was recognized and extended to abortion laws, we limit the time period of this sample from 1st August, 2022 to 1st November, 2022. This resulted in a corpus of 2,42,223 tweets out of which 2,04,742 were either retweets, quotes or replies and the rest were original posts. The user set size for this sample was 45,040.
A number of running themes can be identified within the MRA movement and it is particularly interesting to observe how the community reacts to both related and unrelated events. To study specific events, we examined three more situations that unfolded in November 2022. These were the campaign against The Chief Justice of India, the Shraddha Walker Murder case which broke in the news in early November 2022 and the backlash against Richa Chadha’s statement on the Indian army. All these samples were constructed over hashtag use.
Sample 3: DY Chandrachud Chief Justice Messaging
To study the attack on D. Y. Chandrachud, we collect tweets containing the keywords #NotMyCJI or #JudiciaryMustApologise from 1st August to 1st November 2022. A reason this sample differs from the core MRA sample is that a number of non MRA accounts that were opposed to Chandrachud joined this discussion.
Sample 4: Shraddha Walker Murder Case
For the latter, since we wanted to particularly look into the response of core MRA members to the Delhi murder case, we first collected all tweets made by these accounts from 1st October to 16th November and then selected tweets containing the terms: Shraddha, Aftab, AaftabPoonawala, ShraddhaWalkar or DelhiMurder.
Sample 5: Messaging around Richa Chadha’s Statement
We collected tweets containing any of the terms “RichaChadha”, “GalwanValley”, “#BoycottMamaEarth” or “#BoycottFukrey3”, or tweets mentioning @RichaChadha to capture the activity in response to the recent attacks on a tweet by actress Richa Chadha which was interpreted as a mockery of the Indian army. This search resulted in a set of 5,04,567 tweets out of which 369 were authored or retweeted by identified MRA accounts.
For the purpose mapping tweeting activity to offline events, we make use of Sample 1. We then plotted the daily tweeting activity from the data we collected and annotated days on which a high frequency was observed (see fig. 1).
- A high activity period is seen around 14th – 26th January (peaking on 19th January, when #MarriageStrike trended in India). The increased activity can be attributed to the High Court’s deliberation on criminalizing martial rape which then sparked a debate on Twitter.
- We see that 7th March also generates more tweets as a sort of a countermovement to International Women’s Day where we see an increase in the use of hashtags like #WomenIsABurden and #FalseCaseDay. The ostensible goal here is to take over the narrative on a date when women-centric content may appear significantly.
- Both peaks on 4th May and 23rd May were related to the Depp v Heard trial, the former being the day Amber Heard took the stand and the latter being the day court proceedings were resumed. Activity around 1st June can be connected to the day of ruling on Depp v Heard.
- On September 9, 2022, the surge in tweets was related to news coming out about the adjournment of the case on criminalization of marital rape to 16th September. The last peak at 29th September was due to Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s ruling that included marital rape as a reason to termination of a pregnancy. As we see later in the paper, Chandrachud becomes a major point of discussion later in the process as his tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme court starts to approach.
Figure 1: Timeline of Twitter activity related to discussion on Men’s Rights in India in Sample #1 (Link to interactive plot: https://plotly.com/~shreya_agarwal/11/)
We see here two sample tweets from dates when activity peaked – the first is on women’s day, for which sarcastic tweets were trended, and the second was in early September 2022, when there was collective mobilization against the court verdict on marital rape. In both cases, we see a high use of hashtags, and a repeat of similar language across various accounts.
Figure 2: Sample tweets from the two peak days for anti-feminist activity – Women’s Day and the date when news on the marital rape case came out
When we look at the monthly frequency of new users (see Fig. 3), we don’t quite see a consistent increase in users which would have suggested accounts getting suspended. We do however notice an increase in new users signing up around the months of March – June which corresponds to the high tweeting activity peaks we observed in Figure 1. We also see that the action around the marital rape case begin before the actual court deliberations, suggesting that the goal is to influence public opinion around it prior to the judgment.
Figure 3: Monthly frequency of account creation of users in Sample #1 (Link to interactive plot: https://plotly.com/~shreya_agarwal/9/)
Key organizations and groups
We took a closer look at the user set present in our dataset with the objective of identifying different organizations or groups and analyzing how they interacted with each other. We carry out all further analysis in his section using Sample 2 which has a total number of 45,040 unique users that engaged in tweets related to MenToo.
For the identification of such groups, we employed two methods. First, we make use of published datasets DISMISS and Nivaduck to identify influential users and political accounts. Such accounts, barring a small few, are typically not alpha accounts for #MenToo content, but are important amplifiers of their content because of their online reach. If and when an influencer does engage in content that is explicitly related to #MenToo, or retweets content from a known high-volume tweeter for from within the #MenToo community, it has an impact on the overall reach and legitimacy of the movement.
Second, we collect all the tweets of accounts identified as Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). We did this by collecting a seed set of MRAs based on the tweeting behavior, such as consistent use of #MenToo messages or the use of men’s rights related language on their profile, and then snowballing their friends. Once we build a list of friends who appear frequently across several accounts in the seed set, we repeat this process again, with a new expanded seed list based on this step. The final list of accounts is built after hand-coding each account by eyeballing the profile text and their recent tweets. We include all accounts whose profile texts include terms related to men’s rights, anti-feminism, names of organizations known to promote men’s rights online etc.
The MRA community has a number of organizations, but the key ones on Twitter with the strongest voice include Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), Sahodar India Trust, Voice For Men India and more.
While our primary analysis focuses on the content of messages from these accounts including tweets and retweets, we also examine the networks and flow of content, and use the profile texts of the core accounts to describe interest groups, professions etc. A full list of keywords used to populate this data is made available in the appendix.
We summarize our findings on tweets and retweets authored by these users in Table 1.
|User Set||Found in our data||Total Original Tweets related to #MenToo||Total instances of retweeting a #MenToo related message|
|Engineers, Software developers||548||822||5035|
Table 1: User types and total number of tweets engaging in use men’s rights related content in Sample 2
In general, the MRA community tends to be self-contained. This means that while they do occasionally get some engagement from the broader community outside of their own, a large share of activity tends to be endogamous, i.e. driven and retweeted by a small group of users. A small group of users consistently, and almost exclusively output content related to men’s rights. So, while a large number of Twitter accounts of politicians, celebrities, government agencies etc. are mentioned in tweets from the community, there is negligible engagement back from those communities. The most actively called-out social media handles tend to be official accounts (police, government handles) and media accounts (mainly publications). We find that self-described “engineers” are among the most vocal in terms of the quantum of messaging related to Men’s Rights.
Figure 4: Retweet network visualized (using Gephi) for the 4 profession based groups
To investigate the flow of information between the four profession based user groups, we plot the retweet network as a directed graph with 466 nodes and 741 edges. Then, we apply a layout algorithm Force Atlas 2, to space out the nodes and reveal user clusters. A few inferences can be drawn from the formed network (see Fig. 4). While all communities intersect, we see engineers engaging with other groups more often. Additionally, students are more prominent in the network as well as more self-contained compared to other groups.
Figure 5: Influential users (including public figures and government handles) mentioned more than 100 times (Link to interactive chart: https://plotly.com/~shreya_agarwal/7/). Data is taken from DISMISS, a comprehensive database of Indian influencers.
We see in Figure 5, several patterns in who gets called out by the MRA community. First, there are callouts to handles of officials such as the Prime Minister’s Office (@PMOIndia), the Ministry of Women and Child Development (@MinistryWCD) and Rekha Sharma (@sharmarekha), the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, and various associated accounts including @DCWDelhi, DelhiPolice etc. There is virtually no engagement back from these accounts. The most tagged politician in these tweets was @KirenRijiju, and the most tagged ministry was @HMOIndia.
The second community engaged is media – the typical pattern is to send out a tweet and tag multiple media houses in the tweet. This rarely, if ever, gets the attention of the media house, but in general the mainstream media house most called out tends to be Republic, followed by ZeeNewsEnglish. Figure 6 below provides examples of tweets that list a number of news handles, in the hope that this will either find its way into feed notifications, which in turn could impact the reach of these messages.
Figure 6: Tweets calling out handles of mainstream news and influencers
The third engaged community is individual influencers. Here, the majority of called-out accounts tend to be women who are outspoken about women’s rights and gender violence. Most of these are crafted as “the enemy” thus television presenter Faye D’Souza, Namita Bhandare, poet Meena Kandasamy, actor Swara Bhaskar, and the feminist handle @SheThePeople. As we see in Figure 7 below, most such engagements are negative, and resort to name-calling. A general trend we see across the tweeting is that feminist women in public lives who are relatively open about their political positions are either called out, or attacked in their messaging through replies.
Figure 7: Tweets replying to, or calling out handles of female influencers who typically take liberal positions on social media
The anti-feminist messaging, while central to the MRA community, is tied to a longer history of attacking the notion of feminism, often by highly influential digital accounts. While the anti-feminist movement on Twitter has been active around MeToo related tweeting since 2018 (see tweet on Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev’s talk on Feminism at Mount Carmel college in 2018), there was a flurry of activity following actor Tanushree Mitra’s discussion on harassment by male co-star Nana Patekar. While influencer accounts may not directly employ the hashtags used by the MRA community, attacks on “wokeness” cast the notion of feminism as inherently western, and have high engagement value online.
Figure 8: Tweets from influential Indian accounts attacking the notion of feminism
Coordinated Activity around Viral Events
We see here a series of messages that use MenToo alongside viral event. Such an event may or may not be immediately related to Indian MRA, but offers an ability for the accounts to find shared cause. Cases where there is an overlap and an interest in the Indian MRA community include the Indian supreme court verdict on sexual consent, the Amber Heard – Johnny Depp defamation trial, whereas unrelated issues include calls to boycott Bollywood, the Citizen Amendment Act, and COVID. In general, the vast majority of coordinated activity takes place around related events, and the non-related events are typically used mainly for their viral hashtags. However, the existence of the unrelated events is important for the spillover effects of how a community arranged around men’s rights can find intersections with other communities. We examined a few specific events, we turn to these now.
Figure 9: Examples of tweets using a hashtag from an unrelated activity to engage Twitter audiences on MRA issues
Coordinated Activity Case 1: The Supreme Court
Among the campaigns carried out included a flood of messages against the incoming Chief Justice of India, which was covered in the news, for taking feminist positions. The online attacks on DY Chandrachud are rooted in his history of having been on several judgments for gender justice, including judging that women’s exclusion from Sabarimala violated their rights, authoring judgments on intersectional violence in rape, on adultery law being unconstitutional, and on equity in the armed forces – all of which went against conservative views on women’s role in society.
We noticed a trend that the announcement of Chandrachud as the next Chief Justice of India triggered a slew of messages. While Chandrachud became CJI on 9th November, 2022. Fig. 10 shows the tweeting activity from the MRA community was triggered on Twitter between around 22nd and 23rd October, when the news of his appointment was released.
Figure 10: Content in the MRA community related to CJI Chandrachud (Link to interactive chart: https://plotly.com/~shreya_agarwal/1/)
We conducted a manual inspection of tweets, where we see the first wave of messages against Chandrachud, typically through Quote-tweeted messages on his position on women’s issues (see fig. 11).
Figure 11: Instances of Users linking news articles to their Tweets when taking a stand against the upcoming Chief Justice of India.
This activity in October 2022 was coordinated around two hashtags – #NotMyCJI and #LegalTerrorism. While the #LegalTerrorism had been used significantly in the MRA community in the past to highlight feminist court judgments and other legal issues, it was applied in Chandrachud’s case to him as an individual. #NotMyCJI trended for several days between the announcement and his actual elevation, and during this, a slew of other related hashtags like #JudiciaryMustApologise and #Chandrachud also trended.
The anti-Chandrachud messages moved into a Hindutva discourse, presenting that his positions were not only feminist, but explicitly anti-Hindu. We see several instances of linked media, including as we see in figure 12, a message about his son Abhinav, that present Chandrachud as an anti-Hindu judge. The linked media in these cases offers a link between the MRA community members and a core set of accounts that more typically put out tweets related to Hindutva online. So while the #NotMyCJI had drivers in the MRA community, it was the intersection with the broader pro-Hindutva networks that made it go viral.
Figure 12: Instances of Users suggesting that the new CJI is a threat to Hindutva
Coordinated Activity Case 2: Depp v. Heard
#MenToo acquired a global audience owing to the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation lawsuit. It was also a major driver of social media engagement in the Indian MRA community. The Depp Vs Heard case became a point of convergence for many in the MeToo community around the world, and lurid details, particularly those that threw shade on Heard, went quickly viral. In the India-specific MRA community a number of the globally popular hashtags including #johnnydeppisasurvivor, #johnnydeppisalegend, #amberheardisaliar and #amberturd are all seen in our sample (A full list of hashtags and their usage can be found in the appendix).
Figure 13: Tweets by Indian accounts referring to the Depp v Heard case
As we see in Fig 13, some of accounts could be seen referring to the trial, often adding an Indian element to it by comparing laws in the US with Indian laws or by naming themselves “Indian Johnny Depp”. While there was much tweeting while the case was ongoing (including the use of #AblaNaari to refer to Heard) the activity peaked with the closure of the case, with the verdict presented as vindication for Indian men dealing with accusations of domestic abuse.
Coordinated Activity Case 3: Shraddha Walker Murder Case
How does a community focused on undermining cases of violence against women by men appropriate a case of domestic abuse by a male partner in a relationship, followed by murder?
The Shraddha Walker murder case came to light in the news around 14th November, when a missing woman was revealed to have been murdered by her live-in partner. As gory details of the body disposal emerged, the story became viral online. The women’s rights community engaged the story significantly, the most substantial engagement came from the Hindu right, which focused on the religious identity of the perpetrator, and the origins of the relationship in which the female partner cut ties with her family to be with a man from a different community. We examined the MRA community’s response, and highlight some of the themes around interfaith relationships, parental/modern values, feminism and choice.
A viral tweet that was retweeted multiple times in the MRA community came from a pro-Hindutva influencer account @Voice_For_India, which, rather than highlight the case as one of intimate partner violence, presents it as solely related to faith.
Figure 14: A tweet from influencer @Voice_For_India which went viral in the MRA community
We used Sample 4 (see methodology section for a sample description) described above for all its analysis. We broadly categorized the tweets into four themes, all of which have been used as the underlying cause of the case or called out as problematic. These include tweets that mention religion, parents/family values, modernization/live in relationships or woke feminism. A quick look at the Wordcloud generated from the tweet texts (see fig. 15), also demonstrates the presence of these themes.
We see that out of 369 posts, 88 mention woke feminism, liberalism and women’s choice, 71 tweets talk about religion, 70 bring up family values and parents and 10 tweets talk about live in relationships.
Figure 15: A visualization of commonly used words in Tweets regarding the murder case (Sample 4)
One of the most significant trends was of victim blaming. Influencer account @DeepikaBhardwaj, which belongs to a journalist who made a film on men’s rights put out a tweet squarely putting the onus on the murdered woman, and a series of messages from less influential accounts within the MRA networks followed. We see in figure 16 the juxtaposition of traditional values with blame aimed at the victim for the broken relationship with her father, and specifically for the interfaith relationship. The repeated use of “woke” is used as a collective term against feminist notions – as we see both in the tweet from @Voice_For_India in Figure 14, where key feminist figures from India are repeatedly referred to as part of the problem, and the set in Figure 16, where the problem highlighted is interfaith relationships rather than domestic violence.
Figure 16: Examples of tweets, each highlighting the underlying themes mentioned above
Coordinated Activity Case 4: Richa Chadha Twitter Backlash
A recent (now deleted) quote tweet by actress Richa Chadha incited controversy on Twitter with both #RichaChadha and #BoycottFukrey3 trending in India. We note in earlier sections how the MRA community attacks outspoken female influencers who share feminist standpoints on the platform. This motivated us to take a look at how the MRA community responded to the controversy amongst the prominent BoycottBollywood and Hindu Nationalist accounts that were criticizing the actress. In this section, we make use of Sample 5 for our analysis.
Figure 17: Wordcloud of tweets on @RichaChadha from within the MRA community (Sample 5)
To understand and highlight the broad themes and topics present in the sample, we begin by looking at the most common keywords used on these tweets (a full list is made available in the Appendix). We see the use of words like “woke” and “bholi” (naive) being used to describe Richa Chadha here as well. We also see tweets linking her activity on marrying actor Ali Faizal, indicating ties to the Muslim community and consequently Pakistan. With #BoycottFukrey3 and #BoycottMamaEarth trending, people attempt to sabotage the actress’s upcoming film and take their complaints to companies whose products the she has endorsed.
Figure 18 gives us some insight into the tweeting behavior of MRA accounts. We see a high number of official handles belonging to politicians and police accounts getting tagged in tweets. We also see tweets tagging @mamaearthindia and @Healthkart, threatening to boycott their products.
Figure 18: Accounts and the number of times they are mentioned in Sample 5
We see another pattern remerging, namely, adding a trending hashtag to unrelated tweets to gain traction on Twitter (see fig. 19).
Figure 19: Accounts Adding #RichaChadha to unrelated content in order to increase reach
We turn now to the stylistic elements in constructing the messages. In general, stylistic elements aim to create greater affective engagement with the content. We find first that memefication is a consistent theme – making jokes around feminism, relationships, gold-digging etc. We present three distinct thematic groupings that we noticed in the messaging. These are around pop culture, on attacks at prominent feminists, and on body-shaming.
Figure 20: Examples of memefication and the use of short video format to increase engagement
We see in figure 20 a number of cases of tweets showing either that women are not “weaker” than men (lower panel) or showing that men need to be cautious over women using various forms of manipulation in an environment of woke culture to entrap men (upper panel). The marital rape judgment of the Supreme Court (presided over by DY Chandrachud) brought out a number of memes, typically snarky asides on the concept of consent, with allusions that women are likely to manipulate these.
Stylistic Element: Pop Culture references
We saw use of pop culture references that were unrelated to the movement, often accompanied by text/edits that attempted to make the media relevant. This form of memefication is reliable in getting engagement since it uses the affective reaction to the piece of popular media overlaid on the MRA. We see in Figure 21 a number of such memes, using a range of pop culture references – from animated features like toy story, Hollywood blockbusters like John Wick and Inception, Netflix specials like Peaky Blinders, and Indian media references including Panchayat and Sidhu Moosewala. This use of popular culture strongly suggests that a lot of the content is aimed at those who consume and can relate to this content – young Indian males.
Figure 21: The use of popular culture to push for MRA content
Stylistic Element: Body shaming
We see several cases of body shaming, either aimed specifically at feminists in public life, or to undermine specific cases. While there is a long history of body shaming Indian feminist women on Twitter, an incident, relevant to the MRA community, which involved a significant amount of body shaming was that of actor Tanushree Dutta’s revelations against her co-star Nana Patekar, which was followed by a number of tweets commenting on her appearance.
Figure 22: Body shaming strategies to push MRA content
Body shaming has some of the same effect that extreme speech of other kinds does – in that negative or inflammatory content generally gets more affective engagement than content that is non-controversial. The tweets in Figure 22 attempt to equate feminism as incompatible with popularly defined good looks.
Stylistic Element: Attacking Feminists in Public Life
Users often call out certain feminist organisations and influential women using mentions in their tweets. Many of the women attacked include those who have been active in the law, policy or public life. One interesting facet of the MRA community online was that it did not go after younger female influencers, but rather women who have been synonymous with feminist activism or women’s rights including politicians Renuka Chowdhury and Maneka Gandhi, actor Nandita Sen, journalist Sagarika Ghose, and lawyer Karuna Nundy.
Figure 23: Attacks on feminists
Some of the attacks are from accounts named for female Twitter users. This method gives legitimacy to the attacks. The two accounts belonging to organizations or collectives that get the most engagement are @SheThePeople and @unwomenindia, while the individual accounts that get most aggressively engaged are @fayedsouza, @ReallySwara, and @BDUTT. All of these women are routinely targeted by social media trolls.
Stylistic Element: Attacking Westernization
A consistent element of reactionary tweeting is the notion of othering ideas and communities that would appear to be at odds with traditionalist conceptions of women in familial and social life. One set of messages in this space takes aim at women who challenge notions of traditional marriage and parenting. Here, we see that a message from cinema actor Jaya Bachchan, who told her grand-daughter that having a child out of wedlock was not something she would judge herself, went viral as an example of something that deviated from Indian values, as we see in Figure 24.
Figure 24: Attacks on women on the grounds of espousing western values around sex and sexuality
While the tweets in Figure 24 show the more typical attacks on women for ‘transgressing’ towards western attitudes towards sex and family, we find a broader trend of analogies of western policy failure, particularly in the US, and presenting feminism in juxtaposition. Thus, issues that are not central to Indian elections or public politics, including guns and abortion which are major schisms and sources of violent political confrontation in US society, are used as examples to present how feminism sets up the stage for dysfunction.
Figure 25: Use of Tweets on US political dysfunction to present potential risks of feminist activism in Indian society
Stylistic Element: Incel Language
The phrase “taking the red pill” was borrowed from a popular movie, The Matrix and has since been used extensively by men’s rights activists on online forums. In this context, it is used to capture the idea of men finally realizing the oppression they have been subjected to due to their gender. In a similar way, the word “simp” has evolved over time to describe or insult someone (mostly a man) who describes themselves as a feminist.
Figure 26: Use of keywords and phrases typical to the Incel community
There is an entire set of tweets using variations of the term SIMP, typically to undermine men who ally with feminist causes. The goal here is to isolate the cause into appearing like something that is solely a concern of a small number of westernized women are interested in, and has no legitimacy outside of that population.
Stylistic Element: Fearmongering
We find a series of messages aimed at parents and family that the young men in their family were being set up to be abused in marriages and cheated by women. A mix of offering examples of specific cases or laws is raised with the performed effect of marriage as a risk for males from women seeking to exploit them financially.
Figure 27: Use of hypothetical situations to incite fear among Indian men
As we see in Figure 27, these highlight reputational harm and present women in a directly antagonistic frame. Many of the fear-mongering messages seen here appear with the #BoycottMarriage hashtag, and while that is not representative of the majority of messages (ie #BoycottMarriage has experimented with multiple themes), the consistent theme is of women as manipulative and the law as its enabler.
Stylistic Element: Highlighting Class Violence
As the delivery economy has become an integral part of the urban economy in recent years, a number of incidents which put delivery partners at odds with customers and were captured on video went viral as social media drama. In addition, COVID lockdowns also led to a series of viral videos of residents abusing security and maintenance staff in gated societies and private vehicle owners getting into scuffles with rickshaw and taxi drivers.
Figure 28: Tweets that highlight cases where the assailant is a woman and the victim is a male with evident class differences between the two.
While these events are typically class-based, with a scuffle between upper middle-class urban residents and service sector employees, and a large number of those that went viral involved men, these are presented here as gendered situations in which an entitled woman attacks a man with impunity.
Stylistic Element: Dogwhistle Language
An unusual stylistic element was the use of words like “appeasement” and “separatism” in referring to feminists. While these terms may seem innocent, these have powerful affective value, since both have traditionally been used in context of Muslims in India. The underlying dogwhistle is that of an artificially pampered group that seeks to overstep its boundaries on account of institutions’ willingness to let it have its way.
Figure 29: Tweets calling out “women appeasement” in the Indian law system and politics
As we see in Figure 29, several tweets present selective statistics that present issues faced by women in education, physical and mental abuse, and the law as being indicative of feminists presenting a new schism in society.
Stylistic Element: Focus on Economics of Divorce
One element that has been used repeatedly, especially by influencers and apex accounts in the MRA space is that of highlighting specific court cases or commentary on existing laws and emphasizing three issues in particular – alimony, inheritance, and dowry (or “streedhan”).
Figure 30: Tweets highlighting how men can be exploited (mostly financially) in a marriage
As we see in Figure 30, some tweets highlight individual cases where a male partner is purported to have been treated poorly by a legal battle against a spouse, whereas others propose hypotheticals or speculation on existing legal strictures. Many of these messages present women as gold-diggers who are a priori interested in squeezing money out of spouses, and that they are, in turn, willing to allow marriages to dissipate since it is in their advantage to do so. We find in particular that discussions including the #MaritalRape were important in pushing these conversations.
In figure 31, we have a sampling of the ways individual cases, where parties are named publicly with one-sided descriptions of legal proceedings presenting the female partner as a perpetrator. These cases. These messages are most effective in reaching virality when circulated through the account of a widely followed influencer or through an apex account in the community, such as that of an MRA organization.
Figure 31: Individual cases referred to in Tweets to make a point marriage
Stylistic Element: Appealing to the Youth
Note: This section features images and text that could be particularly disturbing to readers
Some of the most disturbing images came from people purporting to be, or were messages aimed at young Indians. One place were we see this is the large number of references to popular culture, especially viral OTT series or films that are mainly aimed at a younger audience (See figures 20, 21 above), and on another hand, we also see a number of messages that use the “MGTOW” acronym which refers to “Men Going Their Own Way” which use images and text aimed to appeal to young males. Such tweeting also uses language such as “blue-pill” and “red-pill” language etc. as a means of signifying inside jokes.
Figure 32: Tweets intended to appeal directly to young Indian men
The majority of appeals at younger males were addressed directly, though some were also aimed at parents, as warnings that women were trying to entrap their sons. #BoycottMarriage was the most commonly used hashtag in messages aimed at young male audiences.
Online Outreach Strategies
Outside of stylistic elements, we see specific outreach strategies that have been used in other cases of structured online trolling or astroturfing activity. These outreach strategies are distinct from stylistic elements in that they are not as much about the content of the messages, as they are about the way in which the messaging is spread through a network. The three main strategies are Copypasta, Dovetailing non-MRA communities, and conducting online-offline events.
We came across several instances of copypasta tweets pointing to bot-like or spamming behavior aimed towards increasing tweet volume. The copypasta activity is typically driven by either accounts that have generic names (right tweet deck on Figure 32), or by accounts that purport to be affiliated to the same organization. In this case, we see that several accounts that are named around “Sahodar” an MRA organization, copy and paste the same message, on the same day.
Figure 32 Examples of Copypasta can be seen where users copy both tweet text and attached media
We see some of the repeated use of the term ‘Sahodar’ in the handle of accounts that frequently use copypasta as a technique, as well as the use of generic names that do not map back to known or verified persons (Figure 33). A small number of accounts are repeated copypasta offenders, however these accounts also recycle quickly, thus a problem with researching them is that the Twitter API often doesn’t return their information once they are suspended or banned.
Figure 33: Users whose content was copy pasted more than 3 times (Link to interactive chart: https://plotly.com/~shreya_agarwal/5/)
Strategy: Dovetailing non-MRA issues
We find that the MRA community has on several occasions dovetailed off another event. This is a subset of what we outline at the start of this paper – coordinated activities, but while in that section we focused only on major events where the activity went viral, the more frequently seen strategy is to try and find allies by dovetailing on other issues. In figure 34, we see the invocation of caste several times in a range of ways. One image (extreme left) uses explicit casteist language, thus the appeal is both misogynistic and casteist, while the remaining tweets use a mix of caste-neutral signaling, or explicit calls out to casteism by women, with the ostensible goal of getting traction from the community that engages with caste online.
Figure 34: Tweets with intersecting themes of Men’s rights and caste issues
Another pattern of dovetailing was the use of #BoycottBollywood, a movement that has had a buoyancy of its own. We see in Figure 35 a range of films that find themselves part of the MRA ecosystem. We see two patterns here – first that the MRA community intersects with the Sushant Singh Rajput community (which was a big driver of #BoycottBollywood) as well as with the anti-Bhatt sentiment (targeting members of the Mahesh Bhatt film family), which tends to intersect well with the Hindutva-oriented Twitter users.
Figure 35: Tweets connecting the BoycottBollywood movement and the Men’s Rights movement
Interestingly, we also found some reverse dovetailing, in this, some Twitter accounts that are ostensibly supporters of godmen who have been in trouble with their own cases of murder and rape including Asaram Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahim dovetail on MRA related hashtags and their communities.
Figure 36: Dovetailing of Godmen followers with the MRA movement
Strategy: Online and Offline Community Building
Finally, we find that the MRA community highlights that it is not just a movement on social media, and that there are several men’s groups that meet in physical spaces outside of online spaces. The use of photographs featuring groups of men underlines that there is a community and support for others online who share similar worldviews.
Figure 37: Instances of MRA groups posting about in person events
Finally, another means of dovetailing is the reliance on other communities, one of which is the “Gems of…” suite of Twitter-based accounts which tend to take anti-liberal positions on various issues in India. This was made popular by the Gems of Bollywood account, but since has captured a number of other domains, including history, news, courts etc. The core community is promoted by two pro-BJP influencers listed on the accounts. Interestingly, the community has at least three active channels on Twitter.
Figure 38: Instances of MRA groups posting about in person events
The MRA movement has existed in its non-online avatar for a while, but social media, and especially the #MeToo movement created a new impetus for the community to come together, and a means for it to put forth its positions in new ways. We examined the profile texts of the accounts that were posting content, and looked at their profile texts for how they self describe – the three top professions were Engineers, Software developers, and Students. While this study has several limitations (only Twitter, mainly English-language content due to Hashtag-based data collection etc), we hope that the findings presented here offer a means to think about how communities that are likely to find a strong amount of antagonism on social media organize and build a discourse online.
|Engineers, Software developers||IT professional, IT, Software, Engineer, Engineering, Engg|
|Students||Student, college, university|
|Lawyers||Lawyer, Advocate, वकील|
|Medical Professionals||Doctor, Nurse, MBBS, चिकित्सक, डाक्टर, डॉक्टर|
Link to view hashtags and their respective frequency (Sample 2): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vSQInc_9ePtk8rcF94u0mpFEYS0XUFnJaiFJfTtlIWDaZyMpn6UcGGflsPk3zL7eJF6LqMAe9ESv1up/pubhtml
Link to view hashtags and their respective frequency (Sample 5): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vQYZUx5hN1iX3ufysw8lJdflZNHOWTs0NRSDJpZvl05wTCMtX25AlcYmCh7AEQIPgp7xy56WAI67D8p/pubhtml