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Scams, Fraud and Misinformation in Abusive Digital Advertising Against Women

All over the world, women have been the target of campaigns based on gender bias, spreading coordinated attacks aimed at undermining their civic or political agendas (Di Meco, 2023). The term “technology-facilitated gender-based violence” (Khoo, 2021) refers to how digital platforms are central to the perpetuation of violence and harassment against women, providing efficient mechanisms for users to promote gender-based hate and misinformation.

The algorithmic logic and business model of digital platforms, which gives preference to content that captures users' attention, reinforces gender stereotypes (Ali et al., 2019) and helps in the proliferation of harmful narratives (Di Meco, 2023). Although platforms like Meta state in their terms of use (Meta, [s.d.] a) that they invest in moderating policies against hate speech and misinformation, self-regulation has not been effective in preventing harm caused to women (Díaz; Hecht-Felella, 2021).

As a resullt, online communities in opposition to feminism have proliferated in a phenomenon that has been called “network misogyny” (Banet-Weiser; Miltner, 2016). Mirrored by networked feminism and its logic of mutual support and creation of online connections, networked misogyny creates communities of toxic support, composing the so-called “manosphere” (Ging, 2017). These communities connect and are exploited by campaigns to attack women through contagion and influence strategies.

In addition to gender-based violence organized by misogynistic communities, which facilitates attacks and disinformation campaigns against women, the deregulated environment of digital platforms also enables other types of crimes against women — such as the rampant dissemination of advertising scams specifically targeting women. The socio-technical logic of the platforms also allows these operations to act in an opaque and micro-segmented manner (based on each user's personal data). This puts users' physical and mental health at risk, in addition to material losses.

Therefore, evidence must be gathered that can support action and public policies by the Ministry of Women of the Federal Government to combat violence and gender misinformation online. This report makes is a first step in contributing to this activity. Here we present the results of the first stage of the research “Observatory of the disinformation industry and gender violence on digital platforms”, conducted by NetLab UFRJ for the Ministry of Women of the Brazilian Federal Government, within the scope of the Brazil Without Misogyny initiative.

At this stage of the research, the main objective is to identify, archive and analyze toxic ads that impacted women and were promoted on one or more Meta platform— Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Audience Network. In 28 days of collection, 1,565 toxic advertisements were identified that impacted women and showed signs of misogynistic behavior, scams or fraud aimed at women or irregularities in the offering of products or services to the female public. The pieces were active for different periods between January 1 and February 9, 2024, but some had already been in circulation for some time when collected.

Additionally, we map profiles, pages and websites involved in the dissemination of suspicious, misleading or fraudulent products, services and/or treatments, with the potential to cause harm to women's health. We also map profiles, pages and websites that promote a culture that encourages gender inequality, claim that women are inferior and promote hatred towards women and girls.

Golpes, Fraudes e Desinformação na Publicidade Digital Abusiva Contra Mulheres
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