Alberta Premier Rachel Notley faces a much higher level of threatened violence and personal attack in posts online in the past week — and since her election — than her male counterparts ever get, says a University of Calgary professor.
In the past week, there have been angry social media posts that Notley should be shot, stabbed, or even thrown into a tree grinder. Some of the posts have referred to her as a b---h and other offensive terms.
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"It's a whole class of crap that men in politics don't have to think about, much less address," said Melanee Thomas, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
'We see nastiness that is directed at politicians all of the time, and they deal a lot with that. It's the level of the nastiness that's directed toward women, particularly the NDP in this case, that we find to be rather alarming.' - Melanee Thomas, U of C political science professor
Many of the comments stem from the controversy over Bill 6, which extends occupational health and safety rules and workers compensation coverage to paid farm workers in the province.
Even when people fundamentally disagreed with male politicians of a similar level — such as former premiers Ralph Klein and Jim Prentice or former prime minister Stephen Harper — they didn't attack them online with nearly this level of violence, said Thomas, who studies gender-based political inequality.
"We see nastiness that is directed at politicians all of the time, and they deal a lot with that," said Thomas. "It's the level of the nastiness that's directed toward women, particularly the NDP in this case, that we find to be rather alarming. Not surprising, but certainly alarming."
Notley's team made rare move of posting Facebook rules in spring
In the spring, Notley's social media team posted guidelines on Facebook telling people how to conduct themselves in the comments. Among the requirements were restrictions on violent speech and pornographic language.
Thomas can't recall a time that any other Canadian premier had to do the same.
'For a premier of the economic engine of the country to say not only, "Please be respectful," but "Stop using pornographic language." Like — which men in politics ever [have] to deal with that?' - Melanee Thomas
"It is exceptional," said Thomas. "For a premier of the economic engine of the country to say not only, 'Please be respectful,' but 'Stop using pornographic language.' Like — which men in politics ever [have] to deal with that?"
Some have questioned whether the threats against Notley and her cabinet members are "real" security concerns, but Thomas says that doesn't matter.
"It's not harmless, especially in a province that has a terrible track record for violence against women. They might be empty threats and a lot of the bombastic political rhetoric is kind of empty but it's not okay to say, 'I don't like you as a politician therefore I want to kill you.'".
Other politicians urged to do more to curb threats
Thomas also says other politicians have a duty to try to suppress such discourse. She says Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, who made headlines when he spoke out against the online threats, allowed offensive posts to remain on his Facebook page far too long.
"The leader of the official opposition should have had his staff on this like a dirty shirt. If he was sincere about saying that this wasn't OK, those comments should never have been that visible in the space that he moderates.... Those comments were up for days," said Thomas.
She says everyone needs to do what they can to stop these kind of comments from starting and spreading.
"I think people need to call out friends, family and acquaintances, who they hear saying these sorts of things and say, 'Dude, there's a boundary there and you've blown over it. That's not okay, stop it.'"