To start, let’s take a look at sex ratio. And no, that is decidedly not a euphemism for my love life. “Sex ratio” is the ratio of males to females in a population. For the entire world that ratio is 101 males to 100 females.
Some examples, by country:
The United States has a sex ratio of 0.97. (More women than men.)
China has a sex ratio of 1.06. (More men than women.)
India has a sex ratio of 1.08. (More men that women.)
“Gender imbalance is a demographic effect that may arise as a consequence of various factors ranging from natural reasons, war casualties to intentional gender control.” Source: Wikipedia.
There’s another sort of phenomenon for this sort of thing, though. I’m calling it the “Net of Women.”
When it comes to so-called social media, have you seen men who only seem to follow women? I think that sort of behavior is extremely boorish. It’s something I try very hard to avoid. But something is askew, since most of my online world involves women and very few men.
For example, on Google Plus, contacts in my circles are about 79% female and 21% male, and I’m just getting started!
Seriously, though, I assure it that is not by design. It just sort of works out that way. On my blog, I ask everyone who visits via a little badge I made to “encircle” me on Google Plus. I accept all requests. Therefore I can show that most such requests came from women.
I theorize that some men just won’t follow other men. That seems to me to be the biggest scenario for this sort of phenomenon.
Since the day I started blogging, I have followed and interacted with people I find interesting regardless of gender. In fact, at first, I think the ratio of men was much higher and actually outpaced women. But I’ve found that, over time, it has skewed the other way. I swear it wasn’t me. Maybe it’s the Axe product I’m always wearing? Or maybe women just have better taste and can sense my greatness.
The playing field seems to matter, too. In data I found from 2009, gender imbalance favors women in almost all forms of social media except Digg. (Get your geek on.) Services like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all had a clear female majority.
Calculating my personal sex ratio for Twitter is a bit harder, but I think it’s obvious that I have more female than male followers. Also, since I do tend to “follow back” those who follow me, this imbalance extends to those who I follow, too, though I believe the effect is less pronounced.
Twitter is a bit harder to read since gender may not be as obvious. Twitter doesn’t ask or even provide a space to denote gender.
Even so, gender is very much a topic of interest. A team of researchers has learned that they can predict with a high degree of accuracy gender based on the content of your tweets!
Since Twitter is about 55% female, in general, you could simply guess “female” and be right 55% of the time. If they also consider the full name of account (as entered by users), the accuracy rate can be increased to 89% percent.
When considering tweets alone, their algorthyms still had a success rate of 75.8% of the time.
And, amazingly, even using just a single tweet their software was correctly able to guess gender 65.9% of the time.
As we’re starting to see, services like Facebook and Google are increasingly pushing towards “real” online personas. They see the future as one where we all operate and our known by our real life identities. Last week while speaking on a panel about social media, Randi Zuckerman, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman, and Facebook’s director of marketing, said, “I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away.”
Randi Zuckerman was not speaking in an official capacity for Facebook at the time, but based on her position and who she is, I think we can draw some reasonable inference from her comments.
She added, “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”
Why does any of this matter? For one thing, as soon as people learn something about you, they begin thin-slicing you, making value judgements, categorizing, and putting you in a box. That’s the reason why I never put bumper stickers on my car. No matter which position you take, someone will come along and react to the information you have provided. (Perhaps a person with a different opinion about abortion will key your key.) By refusing to share extra information about yourself you have removed a potential motivation for behavior.
One blogger I follow is a fellow skeptic. She’s young and it just so happens she’s a woman. She operates a blog called Hayley is a Ghost. And she has spoken about disparate treatment she has received as a skeptic simply because of her gender.
Female blogger: It follows that if A = B and B = C then A must equal C.
Male commenter #1: You are really pretty.
Male commenter #2: Did you get the picture of my penis I sent?
Male commenter #3: Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen?
Tiger Woods: I have money and I’m horny!
Brett Favre: Did you you get the picture of my penis I sent?
Anthony Weiner: Did you get the picture of my penis I sent?
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Who is your daddy and what does he do?
What in the name of Zeus’ butthole does any of that have to do with the logic of the argument? Sure, everyone gets trolls, but people will go after the most obvious buttons they can push. It’s a low-hanging fruit sort of dealio.
The internet doesn’t have to reveal information like gender. In fact, we’ve already experienced the issue of gender in the online world in circumstances like games (World of Warcraft) and other software (like Second Life).
Both WoW and SL allow accounts to be created of any gender regardless of the gender of the account holder. Men can play characters that are men, or they can be women. The same is true for women. In WoW I heard that some women played male characters to avoid being hassled. I have played characters of each gender and I can tell you, in my experience, people treat you different based on their perception of your gender.
Of course, since the real gender remains a secret, unless exposed via some other means (like voice chat), then you can get weird dynamics. For example, an all female guild comprised of mostly men! Or, in Second Life, a “lesbian” island where all of the avatars are female but the gender of the operators is unknown and almost certainly overwhelmingly male.
I personally believe this sort of “gender anonymity” is going to assert and extend itself in the near future. The more Facebook and Google take us in the direction of having our total identities known online the more people are going to long to be judged on the strengths of their arguments and not some irrelevant criteria, be it gender, age, race or anything else. In kindergarten the refrain on the playground might be “four eyes” for someone wearing glasses. As adults, we’re very good at the grown up very of the same thing. We pick on that which is difference.
There will always be a time and place for real identities. But I think we’re going to see a renaissance of anonymity on the net. Yes, like Randi Zuckerberg points out, anonymity used as a vehicle for hate can be an extremely ghastly and repugnant thing, but so are personal attacks based on our innate characteristics rather than our beliefs, behaviors and the words we use.
By the way, don’t bother peeking up my skirt/kilt. There are no clues there.