Is It From a Man or a Woman? Be Careful When You Tweet Back

Big boys don't cry.  Or talk about their emotions with their friends.  Or say "cute."

According to a new study, real men don't say "cute."

The study looked at data and Twitter to analyze the accuracy of stereotypes, reports.

From gender to education, the words used on social media carry impressions to others. Using publicly available tweets, social psychologists and computer scientists from the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, Germany, and Australia are helping us to parse out the stereotypes formed by word choices on Twitter. Using natural language processing (NLP), a form of artificial intelligence, the researchers show where stereotyping goes from "plausible" to wrong.

In a series of studies, participants were asked to categorize the authors of tweets based solely on the content of their social media posts. In these studies, people made judgements about a writer's gender, age, education level, or political orientation, based only on the words used in public posts made on Twitter.

The researchers used NLP techniques to analyze and isolate the stereotypes people used to categorize people across gender, age, education level, and political orientation. While the stereotypes and people's assumptions were often correct, there were many instances where people got things wrong.

"These inaccurate stereotypes tended to be exaggerated rather than backwards," says lead author Jordan Carpenter (now at Duke University).  "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 never swear, which is untrue."

By focusing on stereotype inaccuracies, their research reveals how multiple stereotypes can affect each other.
"One of our most interesting findings is the fact that, when people had a hard time determining someone's political orientation, they seemed to revert (unhelpfully) to gender stereotypes, assuming feminine-sounding people were liberal and masculine-sounding people were conservative," states Carpenter.

The data also showed people assume technology-related language was the sign of a male writer. In this study, "it's true: 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."

So what are we to do when tweeting and are unsure of the gender of our tweetee?  Assume nothing, I guess.


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