Culture and social mobilisation against sexual violence via Twitter: the case of the “#LaManada” court ruling in Spain
Cultura y movilización social contra la violencia sexual a través de Twitter: el caso del fallo judicial “#LaManada” en España

Asunción Bernárdez-Rodal1
Nuria López-Priego1
Graciela Padilla-Castillo1

1Universidad Complutense de Madrid. España.

Introduction. This article analyses the dissemination of tweets critical of one of the most controversial and widely publicised court rulings in Spanish history, which found a group of men guilty of abuse rather than the more serious crime of rape in 2018. Methodology. The study used a mixed method of quantitative and qualitative approaches, with a corpus for analysis of 73,904 tweets. Results. Of the total number of tweets obtained, 49,886 (67.5%) were retweets, while the other 32.5% were original messages with or without mentions of other users and replies to other tweets. Conclusions. The conclusions drawn are that Twitter has come to be recognised as the social network for expressing political outrage, and that the social protests on the network are associated with processes of militancy and feminist movement. Anonymity on these platforms tends to be viewed as an opportunity to freely express ideas and opinions that would otherwise be impossible to disseminate.

Keywords: Political mobilisation, digital activism, sexual assault, rape, Twitter, feminism, crime.

Introducción. Este artículo analiza la difusión de tuits críticos de uno de los fallos judiciales más controvertidos y ampliamente publicitados en la historia española, que determinó que un grupo de hombres era culpable de abuso en lugar del delito de violación más grave, en 2018. Metodología. El estudio utilizó un método mixto de enfoque cuantitativo y cualitativo, con un corpus para el análisis de 73.904 tuits. Resultados. Del número total de tuits obtenidos, 49.886 (67,5%) fueron retuits, mientras que el otro 32,5% fueron mensajes originales con o sin menciones de otros usuarios y respuestas a otros tuits. Conclusiones. Las conclusiones que se extraen son que Twitter ha llegado a ser reconocida como la red social para expresar indignación política y que las protestas sociales en la red están asociadas con procesos de militancia y movimiento feminista. El anonimato en estas plataformas tiende a ser visto como una oportunidad para expresar libremente ideas y opiniones que, de otro modo, serían imposibles de difundir.

Palabras clave: Movilización política, activismo digital, agresión sexual, violación, Twitter, feminismo, crimen.

1. Introduction 1.1. Start of the social phenomenon 1.2. Theoretical issues: feminist mobilisation and sexual violence 2. Objectives 3. Methodological issues 4. Results 5. Most retweeted users 6. Counterattack 7. Legal experts between two opposing blocks 8. Discussion and conclusions 9. Bibliography.

Asunción Bernárdez-Rodal. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. España.
Nuria López-Priego. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. España.
Graciela Padilla-Castillo. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. España.

Received: 11/05/2020.
Published: 05/05/2021

How to cite this article / Standard reference
Bernárdez-Rodal, A.; López-Priego, N.; Padilla-Castillo, G. (2021). Culture and social mobilisation against sexual violence via Twitter: the case of the “#LaManada” court ruling in Spain. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 79, 237-262.

R&D Project, Excellence Program, State subprogram of knowledge generation. Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness. Reference: FEM2017-83302-C3-3-P. Cultural Produsage in social networks: industry, popular consumption and audiovisual literacy of Spanish youth with a gender perspective (2018-2022).

1. Introduction

1.1. Start of the social phenomenon

On the morning of 5 December 2018, news was released about the confirmation of one of the most controversial court rulings in Spanish history, on a case of sexual violence that had received major media attention, known as the “La Manada” (“wolf pack”) case. All the large Spanish newspapers echoed the sentence on their covers and on their national sections, emphasizing that the sentence spoke of ‘sexual abuse’ and not of sexual assault or rape: “The TSJN confirms the abuses and non-aggression of La Manada” (Ojer, 2018); “The Superior Court of Navarra confirms La Manada's sentence to nine years in prison for sexual abuse” (Doria, Álvarez & Valdés, 2018); “The Navarrese Justice confirms the sentence of nine years for sexual abuse for the members of La Manada” (Ortiz & Álvarez, 2018); “'La Manada': confirmation of the sentence unleashes outrage again” (El Periódico, 2018); “The Superior Court of Navarra maintains the sentence for 'La Manada': there was no violation” (Cedeira, 2018); “New demonstrations against "patriarchal justice" after the sentence of 'the herd' insisting that "it is not abuse, it is rape"” (Remacha, 2018).
Within hours, thousands of protesters had mobilised across Spain, called together via social networks by different groups, to protest against the ruling of the Superior Court of Justice of Navarre (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Navarra; referred to below as the TSJN, for its initials in Spanish) upholding the conviction of sexual abuse rather than the more serious crime of rape. The incident had occurred on 7 July 2016, at 2:50 a.m., in the centre of the city of Pamplona during the celebrations of San Fermin, one of the most popular and best-known festivals in Spain. The victim, who filed charges for rape, was an 18-year-old woman, while the assailants were five males who referred to themselves collectively as “La Manada” (“the wolf pack”) in a WhatsApp group.
The case immediately caught the attention of the mass media for several reasons: first of all, because of the footage filmed by the assailants themselves, which they shared on a WhatsApp group, resulting in the “pornification” of the assault (Herrera & Agoff, 2018); and secondly, two of the men implicated in the rape belonged to the national armed forces—one in the Civil Guard and the other in the Military Emergencies Unit. But the most shocking element of all was the fact that the assailants’ defence was organised around two arguments: that the victim had given her consent, and that she was a woman of dubious credibility. To obtain evidence to attack the victim’s character, the assailants hired a private detective to track her activity on social networks in the days after the charges had been laid.
The ruling was announced on 26 April 2018. The five men were sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for continuous sexual abuse, but not for rape. Moreover, the judges had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, as one of them ruled in favour of acquittal, arguing against the existence of behaviour constituting a sexual offence. The ruling prompted a wave of solidarity with the victim, with slogans like “Sister, I believe you”, “Don’t worry, sister, your pack is here”, and “It is not abuse; it’s rape”, as thousands of people took to the streets in cities all over Spain that same afternoon. Eight months later, on 5 December, the TSJN upheld the original sentence of sexual abuse. Our research studies the impact of this court decision on Twitter, where it went viral under the hashtag “#LaManada”.

1.2. Theoretical issues: feminist mobilisation and sexual violence

Studies on the influence of social networks on public opinion are numerous. For this research, those focused on confirming networks as resonance echoes (Klinger & Svensson, 2014, 2016) or on the contrary, as bubble filters (Pariser, 2011; Barker, 2018; Bechmann & Nielbo, 2018; Haim, Graefe & Brosius, 2018; Puschmann, 2019; Kanai & McGrane, 2020), were especially useful. On the one hand, social networks have viralized topics and news that had no visibility in mass media. On the other, they have become information bubbles for some sectors of the audience, who disconnect from the media news due to the feed of their social networks. This feed becomes their only window to the world and includes many and dangerous fake news (Levi, 2019; Poveda Criado, 2019; Stable Rodríguez et al, 2020). These two opposing positions are essential to approach the object of study with the greatest objectivity, assuming contrary opinions on the effects and functions of social networks (Hasan & Gil, 2014).
Feminist movements have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for mass mobilisation (Melo, 2016; Ana, 2017; Sinha, 2018; Dehesa, 2019; Fernández-Romero, 2019). No political party, union or organisation has managed to bring thousands of people out onto the streets as occurred, for example, on 8 March 2018, when more than five million women took part in the Women’s Strike in Spain, and more than half a million women demonstrated in Madrid alone (Bernárdez & Padilla, 2019; Campillo, 2019). Political mobilisation and feminism have been the subjects of various studies in recent years, which have linked their success to the widespread use of social networks (Aune & Holyoak, 2017; Scarborough, 2018; Arbatskaya, 2019; Barrientos, Caldevilla & Vargas, 2019; Cabezuelo & Manfredi, 2019; Castillo, Díaz & Caldevilla, 2019; Gorina & Agadjanian, 2019; Gülel, 2019; Rone, 2019).
In today’s world, the success of any global movement, including feminism, needs to be understood as an interaction between the global and the local, between virtual social networks and processes of individual and group interaction (Cole, 2015; Baer, 2016; Caldevilla, Rodríguez & Barrientos, 2019; Caldevilla & García, 2020; Donstrup, 2020; Paniagua Santamaría, 2019). Feminist movements have been mapping their activist trajectory in a general context of transformation of the forms of public protest and efforts by different groups and collectives to achieve greater visibility (Bernárdez & Serrano, 2018; Cooke, 2019; Hatch, 2019; Kamenou, 2019; Savory, 2019; Soysa & Zipp, 2019).
The recent history of feminist activism has been linked to the new forms of protest that emerged out of the 1999 Seattle protests, when so-called “anti-globalisation movements” appeared to subsume the demands of pacifists, feminists, queer collectives, and other groups (Marchand, 2014; Moreno & Bernárdez, 2017). At the same time, since the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, institutional feminism has been contributing to the consolidation of the movement, under the watchful eye of many feminists concerned that this might result in the promotion of neoliberalism and conservatism. In any case, things changed after the financial crisis of 2008, with the emergence of new, direct action feminist groups like Femen and the consolidation of an active academic feminism (Bermudez & Johnson, 2018; Bernárdez & Padilla, 2018) that has been educating thousands of young women and men.
In this context, feminist movements have experienced an evolution all over the world thanks to the existence of digital social networks (Sánchez Jiménez et al, 2019; Fernández Paradas & Sánchez Guzmán, 2018; Meza Suniaga, & Turci Esteller, 2018). As has been the case for other citizen groups, social movements, organisations and institutions, thanks to the Internet these communities can share information, offer mutual support, organise, mobilise and/or consolidate collective identities (Bastos & Mercea, 2015; Fan, Wu, Wall & Zhou, 2019; Hsu, 2019; Lin & Yang, 2019; Phillips & Yi, 2019). They no longer depend exclusively on the megaphone of conventional media to get their messages to mass audiences (Brennan, 2018; Gray-Hawkins, 2018; L?z?roiu, 2018; Anguí, Cabezuelo & Sotelo, 2019; Hasunuma & Shin, 2019). Today, thanks to the Internet, digital social networks and mobile technology, their ideas can cross barriers and borders at a low cost (Iranzo-Cabrera, 2020) and, even more importantly; they can invert the top-down construction of public opinion and of the public agenda (Jivkova, Requeijo & Padilla, 2017; Padilla & Oliver, 2018; Bernárdez, Padilla & Sosa, 2019).
However, while their importance is undeniable, the success of feminist movements in the world cannot be attributed solely to the effect of digital social networks. Street demonstrations have been playing a fundamental role since at least 2012. Countries like India, Argentina, Poland and the United States (#MeToo Movement, Women’s March against Trump) have seen mass protests against all types of violence (not just physical or sexual) against women. For example, the “El tren de la libertad” mobilisations in Spain, protesting the conservative government’s proposal to change the law on abortion in 2014, were extremely important. Since then, the number of feminist associations of all kinds has been rising constantly (Etura, Martín & Ballesteros, 2019; Gallur & García, 2019; De-Miguel, Parratt & Berganza, 2019; Mojica, Espinel & Botero, 2019; Seperak et al., 2019).
The feminist movement around the world has come together around the issue of sexual violence as a common problem affecting women in every culture and at any time in history. Academic feminism has identified the importance of how sexual violence is discussed publicly, and the need to give a voice to those women who, precisely because of the trauma they have suffered, are unable to talk about their experience. In addition, the new social networks provide a new way of creating a “social conversation” (Armstrong & Mahone, 2017; Mendes, Keller & Ringrose, 2018; Fontenla, Rúas & Conde, 2020; Galletero, López & Martínez, 2020; Ruiz & Bustos, 2020), where women can find anonymous safe spaces to share their experiences, while at the same time taking into account that we live in societies where there is a rape culture (Williams, Christopher & Sinski, 2017; Worsley et al., 2017; Stubbs-Richardson, Rader & Cosby, 2018) that is also disseminated on social networks.
The “La Manada” case in Spain is highly significant because it reveals the extent to which sexual violence serves the patriarchal system. Orbegozo, Morales and Larrondo (2019) studied the digital conversation on Twitter that the sentence generated, separating the spontaneous and emotional comments from those that were more reflective and ideological. Núñez-Puente and Fernández-Romero (2019) investigated the discursive construction of the hashtags #YoSiTeCreo and #YoNoTeCreo, as a political response that created affective feminist communities of Resistance. In addition, Molpeceres and Filardo-Llamas (2020) used constructivist rhetoric and discourse analysis to analyse 100 tweets that generated conversations on Twitter, using the hashtag #laManada. In some cases, sexual violence is deemed abhorrent in the social body, yet on the other it is present on the symbolic level, representing male dominance. Specifically, cases of gang rape tend to be understood as an isolated incidents caused by men who have somehow been “tempted” by women who have entered public spaces where they do not belong. Rape itself is an act of exhibition of male power, even extolled in traditional art in images of the “rapture” of women by the gods (Berber, 2017; Bernárdez & Moreno, 2017; Pradhan, 2019; Tapia y Del-Toro, 2019; Martínez, Alcalde & Santamaría, 2020).
Gang rape reflects a pattern of exhibition of power over women’s body that is made evident today in the recording and circulation of videos and images of assault on social networks (Harp, Grimm & Loke, 2018). These images come to form part of the pornification of sexual assaults (Mendes, Keller & Ringrose, 2018), which appear to acquire their greatest power when they are displayed in male group environments. The tolerance of these kinds of acts, the refusal to believe the testimony of the women and to exonerate the men who base their defence on the “blurred boundaries” of sexual consent (Cense, Bay-Cheng & van Dijk, 2018) is an example of how the patriarchy, at a historical moment for the attainment of women’s rights, is reasserting its power by force. This is also demonstrated by the significant difficulties that the legislative apparatus appears to have in accepting the testimony of women (McGlynn, 2017, Harper, Franco & Wills, 2019).
In Spain, this kind of rape was effectively invisible until quite recently because, as is made clear in the report compiled by Spain’s Geoviolencia Sexual project 2016-2018 (Atencio, 2018), there is no culture of reporting sexual violence, no indicators exist for measuring its many varieties, and a feminist perspective is absent from the public response to the cases, which are all too common. A macro-survey was carried out in Spain in 2015, prepared by the Government Office for Gender Violence, which revealed that 7.2% of women (1.7 million) had suffered some form of sexual assault in their lives. According to the Quarterly Report on Crime published by the Ministry of the Interior (2018), in the first four months of 2018 and average of four rapes were reported every day.
One strategy for concealing sexual violence in our societies is to treat it as an effect of war or situations of extreme poverty or as the product of “other patriarchal cultures”, thereby shifting the concern into imaginary territories with exceptional circumstances (Kirby, 2015). In any case, sexual violence is viewed as a problem that can be resolved by means of severe political or judicial measures (Quilter, 2016; Amnesty International, 2018a), with no acknowledgement of the fact that it reflects a patriarchal system in which male power is exhibited unapologetically in fiction and restrained only partially in reality.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is a turning point in relation to this permissive attitude. Presented in the Turkish capital in 2011, it came into force in the European Union on 1 August 2014. To date it is “the most wide-sweeping international treaty” in the struggle against violence against women and domestic violence. Even in its preamble it acknowledges the structural nature of violence against women as a social mechanism of submission by men that has been perpetuated through a culture of tolerance and denial, and it recognises any form of violence—from sexual harassment to rape, and including forced marriages, so-called “honour” crimes, genital mutilation and domestic violence—as a “serious violation of the human rights of women and girls and a major obstacle to the achievement of equality” (CETS, 2011).
One of the most innovative elements of the convention is contained in Article 36, related to sexual violence and rape. For the first time, the word “consent” appears with respect to sexual relations. The article stresses that consent “must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances,” (CETS, 2011) and emphasises that the signatory States must take the necessary judicial or other measures to ensure the criminalisation of any conduct falling outside this context of express consent.
Despite its importance, only eight European countries have adapted their legislation to the Istanbul Convention: United Kingdom, Ireland, Luxembourg, Germany, Cyprus, Belgium, Iceland and Sweden. In Spain, the first ruling on the “La Manada” case ignited a debate on the need to change the Criminal Code (Amnesty International, 2018b), and in December 2018 a group of experts working on this reform proposed to the Ministry of Justice the elimination of the crime of sexual abuse so that all sex offences are classified as assault or rape.

2. Objectives

The main objective of this research is to analyse the interaction flows registered on the social network Twitter that may have encouraged the social mobilisation against a branch of government (the judiciary) that has rarely been the target of such a massive street protest, and to identify the main voices of these communication flows. This main objective contains these secondary objectives:

  1. To know the nature of the most influential tweets, if they are original or if a retweet can get more visibility than the original tweet is referring to;
  2. To recognize the days and hours when more notorious tweets and retweets were posted;
  3. To find out the number of previous followers of the users with the most notoriety, to know if this number is important to get notoriety;
  4. To perceive the possible relation between users, tweets and retweets;
  5. To detect which users were mass media or public figures;
  6. And especially, as an original element regarding the previous investigations on Twitter and “La Manada” case, to detect if among the most notorious users there are authorized legal voices or legal experts that gave opinions in favour or against the court ruling, which could create public opinion in the rest of the network users.

Our study takes the following as its starting hypotheses:

  1. The nature of communication on Twitter is not horizontal as is widely supposed, but conditioned by certain individuals and institutions, such as journalists, mass media outlets, political leaders and parties, and celebrities, who are the real opinion leaders that set the trends in public opinion.
  2. Despite the above, social networks offer a space for alternative voices who can have more influence than traditional political and media leaders.
  3. The success of the street protests is explained not only by the fast and effective circulation of the news of the ruling on social networks and of the hashtags that disseminated it, but also by the existence of so many social collectives and agents with the power to bring people out onto the streets.
  4. Sexual assault and rape, in particular, have become a key concern on the Spanish feminist agenda in recent years.

This research is part of the R&D Project, Excellence Program, State subprogram of knowledge generation, titled Cultural Produsage in social networks: industry, popular consumption and audiovisual literacy of Spanish youth with a gender perspective (2018-2022), granted by the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness with the reference FEM2017-83302-C3-3-P.

3. Methodological issues

The methodology used is quantitative in nature, although qualitative assessments of message content are also introduced. First of all, to analyse the impact on Twitter of the decision of the Superior Court of Justice of Navarre to uphold the sentence of sexual abuse for the five members of “La Manada”, we used the T-hoarder_kit platform (Congosto et al., 2017) to collect tweets posted between 7:54 a.m. and 11:54 p.m. on 5 December containing the hashtag “#LaManada”. This hashtag quickly went viral on this date, as evidenced by the 73,904 tweets captured via Twitter’s streaming application programming interface (API).
T-hoarder platform allows storing tweets about topics of interest on social networks. Thematic lines in three axes divide this storage: temporary, spatial and relevant (Congosto, 2017). The time axis indicates the proportion of messages transmitted in the chosen period, the most active or most mentioned users, the most used hashtags or the most frequent words. The spatial axis locates the tweets geographically. Moreover, the relevance axis highlights the tweets that get the most notoriety in each area (Congosto, 2017).
These three axes have a simple architecture in three layers: data collection and storage, data processing, and visualization (Congosto, 2017). The components of each layer are programmed in Python, a programming language owned by the Python Software Foundation, with open source license and free for any user. Currently, Python offers its version 3.8.3, since March 2020. However, T-hoarder is compatible with Python 2.7.12 or higher as long as it is 2.7.
The selection of tweets through T-hoarder starts with the Tweetdeck application, which interacts with the Twitter API, so that users can connect multiple Twitter accounts, do a common chronology on the same interface, schedule the publication of tweets and create collections of tweets, as in the case of this research. Specifically, T-hoarder uses the streaming API to filter using keywords, users or geolocation. After choosing one of the three filters, the streaming API provides the tweets in JSON format, a simple and readable text format for almost all word processing programs.
From all the information received, the data that is useful for analysing the tweet is selected: identifier, date and GMT time of the tweet, name of the user who is the author of the tweet, text of the tweet, application from which the tweet was published, author identifier, number of followers at the time of publication, number of users followed at the time of publication, number of tweets previously published, location declared in the user profile, link if the tweet contains a URL, coordinates if the Tweet is geolocated, name provided by the user, description of the user, URL if the tweet contains multimedia information, type of multimedia information and language of the tweet (Congosto, 2017). T-hoarder chooses tweets for their relevance in the form of retweets. It does not count the Twitter API retweets because it is dynamic data over time, while the streaming API allows detecting automatic and manual retweets (Congosto, 2017).
The results of the analysis were transformed into graphs, by the authors, with Tableau software. This graphic creation program offers intuitive data processing focused on the normal speed of human visual understanding. Tableau is compatible with any Data Storage System and offers its interface in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. It is compatible with Windows 7 or later and OSX 10.11 or later operating systems (, 2020).
Gephi was used to analyse the stated relationships and dynamics between users generated as a result of the retweets collected. This helped to visualize the most powerful communities and the strength of the ties that connect their users. Gephi is free software. It is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. For this research, the latest available version, Gephi 0.9.2, was used. For the best visualization of the results, within the tools offered by Gephi, mapping was chosen as allows customization of the nodes through colours, sizes and labels (, 2020). The nodes correspond to the names of the users who got the most notoriety. The size of its name in the cartography corresponds to its greater or less importance. In addition, each one was assigned a different colour that allowed visualizing interactions or unions.
Finally, we applied the content analysis to the most retweeted messages as a way of exploring the reactions of users to the TSJN’s decision.

4. Results

We obtained a total number of 73,904 tweets captured via Twitter’s streaming application programming interface (API): 49,886 (67.5%) were retweets, i.e., forwarded content based on messages originally posted by other users, while the other 32.5% were original messages with or without mentions of other users and replies to other tweets, as seen in Figure 1 below.

Source: own source.

Figure 1. “Original” tweets vs. retweets.

Since social networks are very recent communication platforms whose development is subject to constant changes due, among other factors, to legal regulations and algorithmic modifications designed to ensure user security and to curb threats detected in the use of the technology, there is no consolidated global methodology for data analysis, or to help social network researchers to process the huge volumes of information currently available (Congosto, 2018, p. 3, 16). Nevertheless, given that retweets represent two thirds of the total number of tweets captured and the analysis of interaction flows on Twitter has demonstrated that whatever doesn’t go viral has no real impact, in this case study we limit our research to the ten users whose messages were retweeted more than 500 times, as seen in Figure 2 below.

Source: own source.

Figure 2. Most retweeted users.

The dissemination of the #LaManada hashtag over the course of 5 December 2018 reflects the fact that the distribution of tweets is associated with moments of intensity and “collective trauma”, as seen in Figure 3 below.

Source: own source.

Figure 3. Dissemination of the “#LaManada” hashtag.

This feature, together with a communication model characterised by immediacy, constant updating of content and the posting of concise messages marked heavily by emotion, make Twitter the channel par excellence for expressing social outrage.
The news of the TSJN’s ruling first appeared on the social network in the early morning when, at 4:44 a.m., the newspaper El País tweeted it with the caption “última hora” (“breaking news”). This tweet received 497 retweets in sixteen hours. However, as shown by the asymmetrical histogram to the right that measures the dissemination of the hashtag, the biggest impact on the social network occurred after 8 a.m., when most users connect to Twitter. By this time, many Spanish and international media outlets had already published the news, and the social network began to boil with comments related to the case.
Between 8 and 9 a.m. a total of 7,826 tweets were registered, and the hourly figure decreased progressively as the day wore on. In terms of the number of potential users who saw these tweets, two peaks are observable: one, around 11 a.m., of 10.6 million users; and the other, at 4 p.m., of 10 million.

5. Most retweeted users

A content analysis of the messages posted by the ten most retweeted users reveals the negative reaction to the decision by the Superior Court of Justice of Navarre. One third of the retweets contain objections to the ruling, constituting a large community, which, as can be appreciated below in the modularity graph, is clearly feminist and critical of both the court decision and the Criminal Code, as seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Characteristics of the most retweeted users.

Source: own source.

On closer analysis, the ten most retweeted users were found to include political leaders, feminist activists, journalists and two media outlets: a mass media general news source (the newspaper El País); and a website offering news from a feminist perspective (, which publishes a monthly report on the number of female victims of gender violence in Spain and provides information on other issues related to women’s rights, interests and causes. In all cases, these users are important influencers with more than 70,000 followers (as many as 6.7 million in the case of El País, which is hardly surprising given that it is one of the biggest newspapers in Spain).
The position of El País’s Twitter account among the ten most important nodes in the flow of retweets is due to the fact that it was the first media outlet to post the news and the source from which the issue began to spread on the network. However, its influence on the retweets as a whole is negligible: barely 2%.
The influence of outspokenly feminist writers and journalists was rather more significant. The person hiding behind the pseudonym “Perra Roja de Satán” (@vmm7773), who self-identifies as a woman and as an occasional contributor to the news website Diario 16, was responsible for 7% of the retweets with 6 microposts. This user, the writer Bebi Fernández (@srtabebi), and the journalists Cristina Fallarás and Fonsi Loaiza represent 16% of the total. It is interesting to note that the website was the most active user, as it posted 12 tweets that were retweeted more than 1,000 times. These entire make up 18% of the retweets of the top ten most retweeted users (8,933 times).
After these users, the most powerful community is political, being comprised of the leftist coalition Ahora Podemos (combining the Podemos and United Left parties), two of its leaders (the members of Congress Irene Montero and Íñigo Errejón), and the Twitter account @protestona1, the pseudonym of a user who identifies herself as a Podemos supporter. These three accounts for 11% of the total number of retweets analysed. The power of this community opposing the court’s decision to uphold the sentence of sexual abuse and not assault for the five members of “La Manada” also becomes clear in the social network analysis offered by Gephi, as seen in Graph 1 below.

Source: own source.

Graph 1. Communities emerging in the flow of retweets.

Upon applying the modularity metric to the data, the biggest nodes within the interaction flow emerge on the graph. Their size is directly proportional to their degree of centrality. In other words, the biggest nodes are the ones whose messages were retweeted the most, and therefore attracted more links. The result is a resounding opposition to the court ruling by a majority of users. Specifically, of the 32,833 nodes visible on the graph, 40.6% belong to outspokenly feminist profiles protesting the court decision. Leading this community are Ahora Podemos, a few of its supporters and some feminist collectives and activists.
In terms of content, the bulk of the tweets question the judges’ decision (criticising the fact that the sentence is only for sexual abuse because the accused “did not have to use any force or violence”) and decrying the “misogynist bias” of a justice system they describe as “patriarchal”. In this regard, it is worth highlighting the fact that after “#LaManada” the second most widely used hashtag on Twitter was “#JusticiaPatriarcal” (“patriarchal justice”).
The idea of a “misogynist”, “shameful” court decision that “confirms that if they don’t kill you or beat you senseless, a case of rape will be classified as mere sexual abuse” is present in 21 of the 53 tweets posted by the ten most retweeted users. This proportion may seem low, as it represents less than half the tweets, but what is important here is the number of retweets. These 21 tweets were retweeted 10,338 times, which means that the outrage over the TSJN’s decision is expressed in 20.72% of the retweets collected.
If, as nearly a quarter of the Twitter users involved in disseminating this issue on the social network retweeted, the court’s decision was wrong, a possible solution would be to change the law, a proposal that appears in four tweets (6.81% of the retweets). Of these, one of the most conclusive is a tweet by Ahora Podemos that announces: “We are going to introduce a bill that ensures that #SoloSíEsSí [Only Yes Is Yes]. Misogyny needs to be taken out of the courts of justice.” In their opinion, this is needed because the message conveyed by the TSJN’s decision is “impunity for rapists”; in short, “it is telling women that if they don’t kick, if they don’t scream, if they don’t risk their lives, they’re not being raped.” Shortly before Navarre’s high court upheld the conviction of sexual abuse for the members of “La Manada”, the international organisation Women’s Link had listed the ruling among “the worst rulings on gender equality issued by courts around the world in the year (2018)” (Europa Press, 2018), a fact highlighted by the researchers at, which at the same time underscores the “urgent need” for public policies to prevent sexual violence.
However, in the short term it was the messages calling for action and mobilisation in the streets that received the biggest response. The conclusion was that “we can’t just stand by” because the judiciary is “opposed” to women’s interests and safety can be found in 12 tweets. These messages were retweeted 5,068 times, representing 10.16% of the RTs collected. With the exception of the journalist Fonsi Loaiza and the newspaper El País, all of the most retweeted users invoked the power of the street to challenge what they described as “patriarchal justice” and to stand up for “a decent life, free of misogynist violence”.
In the content of the tweets there are also criticisms of the lawyer for the five members of “La Manada”, for his claim that “there’s everything except for pain” in the video that his clients filmed of the rape of the young woman, while the media is also condemned for giving the lawyer free rein. In the widespread repudiation of the ruling, some of the ten most retweeted users extended their criticisms to two of Spain’s right-wing parties: Partido Popular (People’s Party, Spain’s traditional conservative party), and VOX, which are accused of being misogynist, especially the latter. VOX, considered a far-right party, has made the fight against feminism (or what it calls “gender ideology”) one of its main platforms, a point highlighted by, which points out that “72% of VOX voters are men. They defend the privileges of the Iberian male. Meanwhile, 50 women are killed and 1,000 women are raped in our country each year and ‘La Manada’ enjoys impunity.” Condemnations of VOX and the extreme right are present in 4 tweets that were retweeted a total of 1,497 times (3% of the RTs collected).

6. Counterattack

One of the most interesting aspects of the graph is its revelation of the emergence of a group that retaliates against messages tweeted mainly by the members of Ahora Podemos, and specifically by its spokesperson in Congress, Irene Montero. With 12.11% of the nodes, the blue cluster on the graph contains the largest number of nodes, although it did not have enough supporters to counteract the overwhelmingly negative reaction of the feminist community.
Within this group, the most retweeted users represented 7.45% of all RTs collected, posting eleven tweets that were retweeted 3,497 times on the network, as seen in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Characteristics of the most retweeted users in the anti-Podemos community.

Source: own source.

Notable among the eight most retweeted users in this group are Senator Esther Muñoz of the Partido Popular, the journalist for the digital news website OKDiario María Jamardo, and the blogger Isaac Parejo. Because anonymity is one of the distinctive features of internet and digital social network use, there are five profiles whose identity is unknown. We know little more than the description they give of themselves, and there are thus no guarantees that one of them is not a bot. Indeed, on applying Indiana University’s “Botometer” (2019) to all these profiles, it was found that there was a 22% probability that the account @_santostrinidad was entirely automated. The rest, according to “Botometer”, were not automated accounts.
As for the content of this group’s tweets, in 9 of the 11 we found heated attacks against Podemos and its spokesperson in Congress, Irene Montero. These were retweeted 2,971 times, representing half of the retweets registered within this community. In these tweets we noted various elements that are repeated: the party Podemos and its leaders are accused of “not respecting the results of the ballot box” or the rule of law, and of “not accepting the decisions of the courts”; they are dismissed as “ignorant” and “uncultured”; Irene Montero is accused of being “irresponsible”, of resorting to “easy headlines and clichés”, and of speaking “without the slightest idea about the law”, which they associate with “demagoguery and populism”. They also condemn the party for “stirring up the streets and calling for confrontation.”
In this way they call into question whether Podemos, its leaders and its supporters are really “democratic” and warn of the possibility of their coming to power (“it’s totalitarianism”), citing Venezuela and Cuba as examples. One tweet with audio-visual content shows a vehicle on fire in the middle of a street, an act of vandalism which, with no supporting information whatsoever, is purported to be the direct responsibility of Podemos supporters. The person who posted the tweet (@marubimo) presents them as “los muchachos de Coletaborroka” (“the ponytail guerrilla’s boys”), in allusion to the Secretary-General of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias. And she adds: “This is Bolshevik Leninism in pure Podemos style!! Isn’t this anti-democratic? Isn’t this anti-constitutional? Isn’t this incitement of hatred and violence?”
Irene Montero is also condemned for supposedly turning a blind eye to cases where “rape is committed by 14 foreigners and they walk free,” for which she is dismissed as a “cynical opportunist who lives off female victimhood.” These attacks against Podemos’s Congress spokesperson are striking because she was not the only leader of her party to express outrage at the TSJN’s ruling. The party’s former Secretary of Strategic Analysis and Political Change and also a member of Congress, Íñigo Errejón, criticised the ruling too, and even obtained more retweets than Montero, but this community of opposition to the protests make no mention of him at all. The attacks against Montero represent 2.5% of the 8% of total RTs collected for which this community was responsible.
Direct criticisms of the feminist movement were found in only 1% of the total, specifically, in the only tweet by the user named @_santostrinidad, which refers to “feminazi revelling and binging on outrage over ‘La Manada’,” before adding a link to a news item reporting that “seven refugees” raped a girl “brutally and repeatedly over several months.” On this point, a xenophobic tone was found in the content of 2% of the tweets. By way of conclusion to this section, it is worth noting that one of the three tweets posted by the OKDiario journalist María Jamardo includes a link to her interview with the lawyer representing the five members of “La Manada”. However, this was retweeted only once. Of her tweets, the only one that had any real impact was the tweet in which she described Podemos as follows: “They don’t respect the results of the ballot box. They don’t accept the decisions of the courts. And consequently, they stir up the streets and call for confrontation. So very democratic…” (443 retweets).

7. Legal experts between two opposing blocks

Although their presence is insignificant among the retweets, as reflected in the weakness of their connections and the lack of centrality of their nodes, it is interesting to analyse the participation of a few legal experts found in between the two opposing blocks analysed above, as seen in Table 3 below.

Table 3. Characteristics of the most retweeted users in the community of legal experts.

Source: own source.

These account for 3.68% of the nodes and amount to 2% of the total number of RTs collected. As for the content they share, half of these tweets are presented as a public service, sharing the TSJN’s ruling “for anyone who wants to read it” (@judgethezipper and @juristanloqcido), while two of the three experts also analyse and/or comment on it.
In two of the three tweets posted by @judgethezipper, the complexity of the case is stressed, as evidenced (he argues) by the lack of consensus among the judges: “Summary after two trials of #laManada: 2 judges, public prosecutor and examining magistrate find it was assault. 5 judges find it was abuse. One judge finds no crime proven at all. All, except for the last one, believe the victim.” And he concludes: “And then they’ll try to tell us that it’s a clear and simple case.” Given that we do not know the identity of the person hiding behind this profile, this is only supposedly an expert opinion, which in any case clashes with the argument in defence of the victim and, by extension, with the reasoning of the feminist movement and the community critical of the TSJN’s ruling.
However, it is the thread by the criminal lawyer Chema de Pablo, analysing the ruling, which best serves the interests of the anti-Podemos community. Indeed, the node for this thread is the closest to the blue cluster on the graph because it was retweeted most by members of this community. In his thread, Chema de Pablo not only dissects the court’s ruling step by step, outlining the difference between sexual assault and sexual abuse, but also concludes the thread with his opinion as a legal expert. First of all, he points out the “weak” boundary between undue influence and intimidation in a case of sexual abuse or assault. Specifically, under the Spanish Criminal Code, undue influence (prevalimiento) means that “there is consent, but it has been obtained by taking advantage of a situation of superiority”, and based on this, instead of a case of rape, we are dealing with a case of sexual abuse. He thus adds: “I would like to see a more detailed and precise analysis of the proven facts. The ruling closes the matter, I believe, too quickly and superficially.”

8. Discussion and conclusions

Twitter is a complex network for the expression of public opinion that provides a forum for individuals and institutions, organisations and collectives, political parties and media outlets (Jivkova, Requeijo & Padilla, 2017; Barrientos, Caldevilla & Vargas, 2019; Bernárdez, Padilla & Sosa, 2019; Cabezuelo & Manfredi, 2019; Castillo, Díaz & Caldevilla, 2019; Gorina & Agadjanian, 2019; Gülel, 2019; Orbegozo, Morales and Larrondo, 2019; Núñez-Puente and Fernandez-Romero, 2019; Molpeceres and Filardo-Llamas, 2020). With an issue as controversial as gender violence, and in this case, a gang rape trial, the dissemination of opinions related to the TSJN’s ruling on the “La Manada” case reflects a widespread rejection of the judicial decision. Specifically, the community objecting to the sentence of sexual abuse instead of assault represent 40.6% of the total. This negative response was led by the leftist coalition Ahora Podemos, by some of its supporters and also by feminist groups and prominent activists, including the journalist Cristina Fallarás.
This supports three of our starting hypotheses: the existence of a political and media elite in the real world that has extended its influence into the digital realm of Twitter, but that cannot overshadow the influence of voices offering alternative views and opposing views, like @vmm7773 (Perra Roja de Satán) or @srtabebi, two activists in the feminist movement with a lot of followers.
The impact of voices opposing the Establishment supports our third hypothesis: that the power that feminism displays on social networks today is sustained by a solid social foundation, with hundreds of thousands of people prepared to take to the streets to protest decisions which they consider to be detrimental to women’s interests and their right to equality and to a life free of misogynist violence. The idea of “patriarchal justice” allowing rapists to act with impunity is present in 20.72% of the retweets collected. In response to the “misogynist bias” of the judiciary, eight out of the ten most retweeted users called for street protests (10.16% of the RTs).
Our analysis of how the #LaManada hashtag was disseminated on Twitter on 5 December 2018 also reveals the presence of a community (with 12.11% of the nodes) vehemently opposed to Ahora Podemos and, by extension, defensive of the court decision. They accuse the leftist coalition of “not accepting the results of the ballot box” or respecting the decisions of the courts, and they call the democratic values of its leaders into question. In the heated attacks against Ahora Podemos, it is notable that some of the harshest criticisms (2.5% of the RTs captured) are directed against their spokesperson in the Congress, Irene Montero, even though she was not the only party leader to express outrage at the TSJN’s decision.
Although derogatory allusions to the feminist movement and its activists are made in only one tweet, there is a clearly xenophobic tone in 2.5% of the RTs, with messages that focus on gang rape committed by immigrants both in and outside Spain. The importance that the social network has acquired for professionals in other fields (outside the realms of communication and politics) is revealed in the analysis of a community of legal experts who offer a public service by sharing news on court rulings and explaining their content.
Finally, our analysis of the twenty-one most retweeted users within the three communities studied reveals that all but one are major influencers on Twitter, with more than 10,000 followers. However, not all of them reveal their true identity. A total of 10 of these 21 users (47.61%) maintain their anonymity while disseminating their ideas on the network. Of these, 3 form part of the community that is critical of the TSJN’s ruling; 5 belong to the group critical of Ahora Podemos, and 2 are in the community of legal experts. This highlights the issue of anonymity online and on digital social networks in particular.
Anonymity on these platforms tends to be viewed as an opportunity to freely express ideas and opinions that would otherwise be impossible to disseminate, and that might even pose a danger to the physical and psychological safety of the person spreading them. However, in the “post-truth” era, the possibility that these profiles may be automated accounts created merely to spread unfounded rumours or disinformation cannot be discounted. In our study, there was only one account for which the probability of full automation was as high as 22%, which is a significant percentage endorsed by “Botometer” and the T-hoarder API streaming. Nevertheless, respecting and guaranteeing the anonymity of these individuals makes it more necessary than ever to provide the users of these social networks and of the Internet in general with tools to protect themselves from disinformation.

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Asunción Bernárdez-Rodal
Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Spain. Full Professor and Director of the Feminist Research Institute of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Professor of gender and communication, the semiotics of mass media and information and information theory at the School of Information Sciences. PhD degree in Journalism and BA degree in Spanish Philology from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Author of numerous international high-impact research works related to the analysis of gender discourses, both textual and audio-visual. Author of the book Mujeres en medio(s): Propuestas para analizar la comunicación masiva con perspectiva de género (Women in the media: proposals to analyse mass media with a gender perspective) (Editorial Fundamentos, 2015), Violencia de género y sociedad: una cuestión de poder (Gender violence and society: a question of power) and Don Quijote, el lector por excelencia (Don Quixote, the reader par excellence).
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Nuria López-Priego
Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Spain.
Doctorate in Journalism, from the Complutense University of Madrid, and Degree in Journalism, at the Faculty of Information Sciences of the University of Seville. Between 2006 and 2017, she has developed her professional activity as editor in the provincial newspaper Diario Jaén, covering between 2012 and 2017 information on municipal policy and management. As a journalist, she has won the Journalism Award against Gender Violence 2017 of the Institute of Youth (Injuve) and the Journalism and Local Communication of the Diputación Provincial de Jaén in 2011. Since 2017, she is a doctoral candidate in Journalism at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). She investigates the political leadership mediated in conventional media, digital natives and social networks with a gender perspective.
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Graciela Padilla-Castillo
Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Spain. Coordinator of the BA programme in Journalism of the School of Information Sciences of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Member of the Feminist Research Institute (UCM). PhD degree in Information Sciences (2010, with honourable mention) from the Complutense University of Madrid and BA degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication (2006, with outstanding graduate award). Accredited Full Professor. Postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and guest expert in gender studies at the Benemérita Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP, Mexico). Her research interests focus on information theory, ethics and deontology of communication, TV fiction and gender studies. Author and co-author of a hundred book chapters and scholarly articles published in high-impact journals. Has coordinated more than 10 collective works and has participated in more than 30 competitive and private research and teaching-innovation projects.
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