Tweeting about tech? You must be a man…

Online stereotypes exaggerated when trying to guess what kind of person is tweeting, study finds.

15th November 2016
Tweeting about tech? You must be a man…

Ever wondered what type of person you sound like online? Surely a real man would never use the word ‘cute’, and obviously if you’re talking about technology you can’t be female. These may be some of the extremely erroneous stereotypes you’re being labelled with online.

New research from the University of Pennsylvania, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, has discovered that stereotyping has gone from being potentially reasonable to completely wrong. The study involved people reading a large selection of tweets and placing them in categories linking to gender, age, education level, or political orientation. While many were placed in the right category, a surprising amount were wrong.

"These inaccurate stereotypes tended to be exaggerated rather than backwards," says Jordan Carpenter, lead author of the study. "For instance, people had a decent idea that people who didn't go to college are more likely to swear than people with PhDs, but they thought PhDs would never swear, which is untrue."

The study also showed that people wrongly assumed anything about technology is written by a man. “Men DO post about technology more than women," says Carpenter. "However, this stereotype strongly led to false conclusions: almost every woman who posted about technology was inaccurately believed to be a man."

(c) words written by men but thought to be women, (d) words written by women but thought to be men © Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2016.
(c) words written by men but thought to be women, (d) words written by women but thought to be men © Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2016.

This study took a new angle on looking at stereotypes - instead of getting certain groups, like all men, and asking people what behaviours they give themselves, the researchers started with set behaviours, like tweets on fashion, and asked people to associate them with a group.

"This is a novel way around the problem that people often resist openly stating their stereotypes, either because they want to present themselves as unbiased or because they're not consciously aware of all the stereotypes they use," says Carpenter.

This new method allowed researchers to use natural language processing of artificial intelligence, which deals with the way computers understand what we write. This has created software like spell check, predictive text and virtual assistance like Siri.

“It's exciting to be able to use both computer science and psychology methods in ways that contribute to both fields," summarizes co-author Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro.

So maybe real men do use the word ‘cute’ after all.

 


Follow Science Focus on Twitter, Facebook and Google+