There’s one thread that’s filtered through a lot of coverage of Jacinda Ardern’s resignation over the past 24 hours and that has been regarding the level of vitriol and abuse faced by the prime minister during her tenure. The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly exacerbated that, with the protest at parliament last year being a clear example.
Former prime minister Helen Clark said it was clear that “vitriol and hate” had driven Ardern out of politics, telling Today FM: “There has been a misogynistic element in the way that Jacinda has been attacked.”
RNZ has dedicated a lot of its coverage today to dissecting some of that vitriol. Firstly, there’s this piece by Anusha Bradley looking at the disinformation that’s circled Ardern and the reaction within certain alternative circles to her resignation news.
Questions were also asked of major party leaders regarding the threats and abuse faced by politicians. National’s Christopher Luxon said he believed he, too, was subject to similar abuse to the prime minister. “I know I am – but the reality for me is I choose to handle it in a way where I don’t live on Twitter. I know what’s going on, I know what the feedback is… but for me it’s staying really focused on why I’m doing the job and the task that’s ahead of me,” he said. Politics was a robust environment, said Luxon, and there were people on all sides. “But my identity isn’t tied up in what other people are thinking about.”
Asked whether female politicians suffered worse, Luxon said he wasn’t sure about that. “You’ve seen other countries around the world where you actually get this deep polarisation of political views and you can’t just walk across the room and actually have a conversation with someone who has a different set of politics views and I think that’s a very sad thing for democracy.”
In contrast, Green Party co-leader James Shaw said that while abuse was not exclusive to the prime minister, it was worse for women. “Female politicians get significantly greater levels of threat than male politicians and also people of colour.”
Shaw acknowledged he had stepped back from social media, despite being a former active Twitter user, due to its unpleasant nature. “I put up a post yesterday acknowledging the prime minister’s leadership. Last time I checked there were something like 85 comments and I blocked all but six of them because it was just vile,” he said. “I think the social media companies need to take some responsibility for that. One of the comments that really did stick with me was someone who had said Jacinda was guilty of genocide, stated as fact. And I’m like… really? Who? What are you basing that comment on?”
While someone like Luxon may not live live his life on Twitter, Shaw said the problem is that a lot of people do. “It’s becoming this sort of cesspit.”