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26/06/2018 23:36 SAST | Updated 26/06/2018 23:36 SAST

Women Journalists Have Less Twitter Influence Than Men, Says Study

Twitter is a 'gendered echo chamber', according to a new report — as millions on the platform have already discovered.

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Women in journalism have to put up with a lot.

There's that whole FHRITP heckling prank during live TV reports thing that, for some reason, continues to be a thing. There are multiple accounts of structural sexism, harassment, and discrimination in the industry, and women journalists are facing a growing number of online threats.

There's the fact that women report less of the news than their male colleagues, and that all-male panels (or manels) are often called upon for their expert opinions.

And now a new study that calls Twitter a "gendered echo chamber" has found that male journalists dominate Twitter, largely because they mostly engage with other men, leaving women struggling to be heard.

"Most alarming is that male journalists amplify and engage male peers almost exclusively, while female journalists tend to engage most with each other," noted the report, published in The International Journal of Press/Politics.

Researchers from the University of Illinois created a sample of 2,292 Twitter accounts of Washington, D.C.-based political journalists accredited to cover the U.S. congress, known as beltway journalists. Of the accounts, 57 percent belonged to men, and 43 percent belonged to women.

They found that when male beltway journalists reply to other beltway journalists, they reply to males 91.5 percent of the time, whereas female beltway journalists are more likely to reply to other females. Male beltway journalists retweet other male journalists 69 percent of the time, and retweet women just 31 percent of the time.

"When it comes to engagement patterns, men reply to men an astonishing percentage of the time, and both men and women follow more male beltway journalists. Amplification patterns advantage men more than women, with the vast majority of retweets featuring male journalists," researchers said in the study.

"Of the top twenty-five most retweeted journalists by fellow journalists, only five were women."

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Men were also more likely to have verified Twitter accounts, "a sign they are a 'public figure' in the eyes of the tech company (or the news organisation that may have submitted their account for verification)," researchers said. They also have more followers, and tweet more.

The authors suggest some reasons for this in Vox, explaining that women may tweet less because of time constraints due to having children, and because the platform is less welcoming to women.

"This is not about algorithms, but about the behaviour of journalists, especially male journalists, and structural inequalities in the journalistic profession," the researchers concluded.

Some female journalists took to Twitter over the issue to point out the truth to the study.

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