Donald Trump Made Sexist Attacks Against Megyn Kelly A Trend

Since August, the Fox anchor has been a favored target for online harassment

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly is increasingly popular despite Trump — (Illustration: Tara Jacoby)
Mar 03, 2016 at 3:58 PM ET

It first happened in August. Donald Trump retweeted a comment that referred to Fox News personality Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo,” sending a flurry of sexist assaults her way. In January, Trump went after her again, and she got another onslaught of sexist abuse, with Trump’s fans calling her everything from a “bitch” to a “hooker.” On Thursday night, the two will again share a stage at the GOP debate, perhaps sparking another wave of Kelly-hate.

But to what extent have Trump’s comments actually impacted the surge in sexist slurs? Vocativ used our technology to analyze years of social media data, revealing that Trump’s attacks against Kelly led to clear spikes in sexist criticism.

More Donald Trump Fans Attack Megyn Kelly With Sexist Slurs

Before August 2015, a negligible number of tweets directed at Kelly’s official handle included either “bitch” or “bimbo”—two favorite insults among internet trolls seeking to insult the Fox anchor. Then Kelly grilled Trump over his remarks about women during the GOP debate, Trump responded by saying that she had “blood coming out of her wherever,” and things escalated.

Since then, Kelly has been a favored target for online harassment, with thousands using her Twitter and Facebook accounts to call the journalist sexist slurs like “whore.” Some of Trump’s supporters reportedly sent her death threats. Even on platforms she doesn’t use, like Instagram, critics have used the hashtag #megynkelly to spread images that mock and demean her appearance, often portraying her as a submissive sexual object.

Although outbursts of hateful social posts spike when Kelly has a conflict with Trump, like in January when Trump refused to attend a presidential debate she was moderating, he doesn’t need to stoke the flames for his followers to continue the abuse.

“Bimbo,” for example, isn’t that common a slur. But, after a recent Trump tweet attacking Kelly, use of the word directed at her soared—even though Trump’s anti-Kelly tweet didn’t use it.

Moreover, the attacks against her using those specific words continue—even on the days and weeks when Trump has turned his Twitter insult-machine to other targets. Here’s the same data with a different scale:

On Thursday night in Detroit, Kelly and Trump have their first face-to-face debate encounter since she moderated the August GOP debate. It remains to be seen if the angry masses will come out to viciously attack her.

But despite the verbal abuse, Kelly’s Twitter audience continues to skyrocket. She gains an average of 2,770 new followers every day, according to Vocativ’s analysis of data from February 2016. Some Trump supporters have dismissed what appears to be her growing influence as a new trend caused by negative attention from the wealthy Republican front-runner, playing into the classic myth that women benefit from sexism in ways that counteract the negative impacts. Even women’s media outlets have internalized this image of Kelly. Vanity Fair’s recent cover article about the journalist described her as a “newly minted” role model. Trump himself has said that he made Kelly famous, asking “Who had even heard of her before the last debate?” in January.

Kelly has helmed a top-rated primetime TV show since October of 2013.