Far-right extremist women on Facebook

I wrote this little paper after being frustrated at the lack of data about precisely how many women were in far-right groups these days, especially online. I was hearing estimates ranging between 7% and 56%, and some of these didn’t take social media into account at all, but were just back-of-the-envelope guesstimates based on event attendance or interviews with group members.

In this work, I use a very large collection of data I collected about far-right extremist group members from Facebook’s API during the period June 20, 2017 – March 31, 2018. I then used two “genderizer” software packages to infer the gender of these 700,000 extremist group members. I then divide those into ten different ideologies and look for evidence of women’s auxiliaries, sometimes mockingly called “wheat fields”.

Gender of first names of right-wing extremist Facebook users, by ideology

I find that wheat fields DO exist in five of the ten ideologies. The tall spikes at the left side of each graph below represent groups with a super-majority of women, and which are designed to be women-oriented groups.

I find that women’s leadership rates in the Facebook groups differ between ideologies. One smaller ideology, Neo-Nazi, tends to use women in leadership roles at a higher-than-expected rate. White nationalist and Proud Boys, both ideologies with wheat fields for women (a.k.a. women’s auxiliaries) don’t tend to have women in leadership roles in groups as a whole.

Finally, just like in the 1920s with the WKKK (Women’s KKK) and the Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMAs) and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) I find a systematic marginalization and oppression of women on the one hand comes into conflict with a practical need to leverage women’s networks and organizational abilities on the other hand.

Read “Which way to the wheat field? Women of the radical right on Facebook” here.