A Study of Comments Reveals How the Internet Reacts to Gender Bias

The internet comments provide a means for researchers to asses people's uninhibited, inner thoughts and feelings that they may not otherwise express if they weren't anonymous. So, what do they have to say about women in STEM fields?

The comments section is always a dicey area on the internet, it's a place most journalists are told to avoid (if they can help it). The articles involving studies or discussions on gender are usually the worst--abandon all hope of finding a rational discussion following the conclusion.

Olga Khazan from The Atlantic writes on a recent study that examined 1,135 comments from New York Times, Discover magazine, and IFL Science that all wrote about a study that found science professors favor their male students. The study, which was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, wanted to examine how people reacted to evidence of gender bias in STEM fields.

The internet provided a means for researcher to asses people's uninhibited, inner thoughts and feelings that they may not otherwise express if they weren't anonymous. Indeed, the comments yielded a wealth of positive and negative comments. The researchers were able to determine gender based on photos and names, though, they didn't include gender-neutral or ambiguous names in their results. From this sorting, they were able to determine the gender or 51 percent of commenters, and 57 percent were female.

The researchers then sorted the comments into categories based on whether they agreed with the study, made a sexist remark, or did not believe the study's findings. About 7 percent of the comment were sexist in nature--5 percent of the comments were misogynistic, and most of those comments were left by men. Around 78 percent of the comments agreed or supported the study's findings of gender bias, and were mainly left by women. While 24 percent of commenters refused to accept that the bias existed.

“This finding is consistent with other work suggesting that women are more likely than men to perceive sexism, in part because they are more likely to experience it. Similarly, men may be unlikely to acknowledge gender bias in order to maintain their own privileged position in the social hierarchy.”

It's hard to sift through what could be considered internet trolling and what people actually think. But as Khazan says, “... if there is truth in wine, perhaps there’s some in Internet comments, too.”

Read more at The Atlantic

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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