Towards a critical understanding of social-networked audiences on the feminist movement: Twitter and the 2019 women's strike


The internationalization of the feminist movement and the intensive use of digital networks have been identified as two of its main contemporary characteristics. Numerous studies address the tactical use of social networks by this emerging movement (Boling, 2019; Lopez, Muldoon & McKeown, 2019) and especially in the context of March 8 in Spain (Núñez Puente, D’Antonio Maceiras, and Fernández Romero 2019; Fernández-Romero and Sánchez-Duarte 2019). During the last two years, the success of the feminist movement in Spain has been remarkable, achieving a higher presence in the media, public and political agendas, placing gender equality at the forefront of the political debate. On the other hand, the irruption of a far-right political party with an antagonist message about gender equality has pulled the cord and toughened the public discussion, being this even more evident when one follows the online discussion in Twitter.

This paper analyzes the 2019 Women’s Strike from an ecological perspective (Mattoni 2017; Treré 2019), placing the online audience activity as one of its main priorities. It studies the amount, diversity and scope of the actors who participated in the online conversation and their repertoire of action, taking into consideration the intervention of automated accounts in all the constant flow of interactions.

Our main findings show that conservative factions and groups used this type of Twitter accounts to call for demobilization, criticize the feminist movement, and spread fake news in this microblogging sphere. In this sense, bots participated in this polarization of the debate through partisan hashtags, and the contradictory flows of power are confirmed as a key element to understand the real potential of digital platforms for social change in feminism.

Consequently, the agency of audience(s) is revisited, as the automatic content-production and the fast-spreading of tweets challenges the way social movements plan and develop their online strategies. These fast transformations and adaptations foster a constant dialogue between what is happening in the streets, what is published in the legacy media ecosystem, what is discussed in the seats of political decision-making power and what is discussed in the online arena. This complex dialogue confronts us with an audience that is growingly hard to identify and characterize, and that demands a higher critical literacy in order to filter a confusing matrix of messages and senders targeting them with ideological purposes.