Like, share, comment, report: Responses to anti-gender, homophobic, and sexist hate speech on social media


The spread of right-wing and ideological hate speech on social media is a complex phenomenon. This study aims to deepen our understanding of how gender-based hate speech is addressed in social media. The comparative study has identified differences in user interaction, expressed through likes, shares, comments and reports in Germany and Hungary.

Article by Annika Arndt (✉

Social media serves as a platform for the dissemination of anti-liberal, anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQI+ content by the right political wing, conservatives, and religious supporters. Claudia Wilhelm and Andreas Schulz-Tomančok seek to discern cultural disparities between Hungary and Germany in their approaches to handling anti-gender statements on social media. The method used enables the detailed analysis of the significance of various content and source characteristics in posts, particularly concerning user engagement. In this context, the researchers examined the reactions to Facebook posts that were categorized as gender-biased, homophobic, or sexist. Conducted between May and June 2021, the study enlisted a total of 515 participants from Germany and 740 participants from Hungary through online recruitment. The results reveal clear country-specific differences in the acceptance and rejection of such posts.

Digital hate speech not only affects the online world, but also has an impact on the real world and society. Gender-specific hate speech is increasingly targeting women, sexual minorities or feminist activists. This trend has the potential to foster division and pose a significant threat to the social participation of these vulnerable groups. It is therefore important to have a deeper understanding of these complex processes on social media in order to be able to take consistent countermeasures. In this context, communication scientists Claudia Wilhelm and Andreas Schulz-Tomančok emphasize the cultural and political distinctions between Hungary and Germany in their approach of addressing gender issues and discrimination. Consequently, the question arose as to whether there are country-specific differences in the acceptance and rejection of anti-gender hate speech between Hungarian and German users. Accordingly, the designed study aimed to clarify whether and to what extent there exist country-specific differences within the three primary themes of hate speech: gender hostility, homophobia, and sexism.

Engagement and hate speech on social networks

On social media, engagement, i.e., the reactions of users on social media, can manifests in various forms and expresses both acceptance and rejection. This study specifically focuses on hate speech where forms of engagement in the form of liking, sharing, commenting, and reporting such content by users are examined.

The forms of engagement examined imply different motivations and intensities of engagement on the part of users. For instance, liking is the most passive form of engagement. Sharing a post is a planned action, whereby the aim is to spread the relevant content in the own network. The most active form of engagement on social media is commenting. Similarly active is flagging or reporting, where users can mark content as inappropriate. Hate speech in general is communication targeted at individuals or groups and uses derogatory and discriminatory language against religion, ethnicity, skin color, ancestry, sexuality or identification factors.

The study examined agitation, defamation, conspiracy theories and the spread of unverified rumors as specific forms of hate speech. The analyzed hate speech predominantly revolves around content opposing gender equality, with anti-feminist stances, sexism and attacks against sexual minorities.

Methodology behind the study: Analysis of content and source characteristics in gender-hostile hate speech

The team of researchers analyzed content characteristics and source characteristics in posts containing hate speech. The choice-based conjoint approach proved to be particularly suitable for collecting data on user engagement regarding media content. This approach was used to examine the different effects of content characteristics (such as topic and type of hate speech) and source characteristics (such as gender and status as a politician or ordinary citizen) on engagement. This allowed analyzing the impact of different variations of factors, including content and sources of hate speech, as well as individual attitudes on user engagement. A total of 515 participants from Germany and 740 participants from Hungary were recruited online for the experiment in May and June 2021. The researchers created 16 Facebook posts in their native language. These posts originated from the original content but were manipulated in terms of content and source according to the study.

Variations in user behavior: German vs. Hungarian participants in their interaction with gender-biased hate speech

The study's findings reveal a stronger engagement for anti-feminist content in Germany and a tendency toward a stronger engagement for homophobic posts in Hungary. German participants exhibited a higher frequency of liking and sharing anti-gender posts compared to sexist ones, while their support for homophobic posts was comparatively lower. In contrast, Hungarian participants showed a higher tendency to like and share homophobic posts, followed by anti-gender posts, whereas their engagement with sexist post was lower. The form of hate speech – conspiracy or agitation – was rather irrelevant for Hungarian users. German participants were less likely to support conspiracies or rumors.

Additional results indicate that neither source characteristics nor social media metrics had an impact on the intention to like a post in the German sample. For the Hungarian participants, there was also only a minimal influence on the intention to like and share based on the source characteristics. Posts by men and politicians generated a higher engagement than posts by women and ordinary citizens. In the German sample, the type of actor had a subtle influence on the intention to comment and report, with posts from politicians receiving more frequent comments.

Conclusion: Significant differences in the reception of gender-hostile hate speech

The results of this study indicate significant differences in the context of gender-biased hate speech between Hungary and Germany. Remarkable effects can be seen regarding the content characteristics of gender-biased posts (topic, type of hate speech), while the influences of source characteristics in comparison are small to non-existent. Interestingly among German participants, the type of hate speech affects all four types of engagement while no prediction could be made for liking and sharing among Hungarian participants. Differences in political ideology and religiosity affect attitudes toward anti-gender content in both countries. Right-wing people and those with right-wing populist voting intentions show an increased tendency to like or share those posts.

In Germany, gender-biased hate speech is more accepted when it refers to controversial topics, while homophobia is rejected by the majority. In Hungary, on the other hand, there is a higher acceptance of homophobic posts, aligning with the position of the current government.

The aim of this study was to find out how users deal with gender-hostile content on social media. The results show, according to study author Claudia Wilhelm, "that in Hungary there is a tendency to normalize such hate speech, while in Germany an anti-gender discourse has been established for instance by the AfD".

Publication details

Wilhelm, C., & Schulz-Tomančok, A. (2023). Predicting user engagement with anti-gender, homophobic and sexist social media posts – a choice-based conjoint study in Hungary and Germany. Information, Communication & Society. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2023.2275012

Claudia Wilhelm is Tenure Track-Professor for Media and Intersectionality in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.