A blind social media study suggests people respond better to content by the opposite sex

But they also feel more patronised by the opposite sex

We like to think our content is judged on its own merit but people are influenced by our sex, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation among other things. Many women gamers hide their gender online to avoid harassment and 8/10 of the most abused writers on the Guardian are women. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we’re all guilty of it to some extent.

Artois, a London-based AI company, has conducted a blind study of UK adults to see how they react to social media content when they don’t know who the author is. This is an interesting endeavour as we can begin to see if there really is anything about the content itself that’s tied to the author’s identity.

Artois used content from popular accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The accounts included celebrities, brands, and politicians. Participants rated the content in a number of ways including trustworthiness, approachability, friendliness, and how patronised they felt reading it. They could never see who the author was so they were judging the content on its own merit.

Overall, women responded more positively to content in general than men did. Women were 11% more likely to feel positive about brand content and 6% more likely to feel positive about politicians. A surprising result, given that the authors were completely unknown, was that both sexes responded slightly better to content written by the opposite sex. Despite both sexes feeling more positive about content from the opposite sex, the participants also felt more patronised by content written by the opposite sex.

For much of the content, the gender differences were very slight if at all. But some were very divisive. The biggest gender difference was for a tweet about women in tech, which men were half as likely to rate as trustworthy:

The most patronising content was another tweet, this time by politician Diane Abbot. 31% of men and 36% of women felt patronised by this tweet:

Another divisive tweet that really stands out to me is this angry complaint about BT from UKIP’s Douglas Carswell:

It’s a complaint and it calls people crappy so I was surprised to find that quite a lot of people rated it as friendly. Men were 3 times more likely than women to rate this content as friendly.

The biggest gender difference for an Instagram post was this post by Paloma Faith, which men were 5 times more likely to rate as untrustworthy:

The homeless always take such good care of their companions it's very moving

A photo posted by Paloma Faith (@palomafaith) on

Of all the social networks used, Facebook had the content that everyone felt more positive about. Twitter content is what participants felt the least positive about. Remember, they didn’t know the author or which social network the content was coming from. It’s interesting that Twitter content would be less popular as it hints that maybe it’s the place people go to share opinions that won’t be taken positively.

As interesting as all this is, we don’t suggest you read too much into it as the study has limitations. It only looked at 1000 UK adults and it’s obviously very cis-normative (gender isn’t as simple as male and female for a lot of people). That said, the divisive content such as the tweet about women in tech is interesting as it suggests men and women can have differing views on the topic, regardless of who is saying it.


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