What are the causes of the gender imbalance

New approaches to gender balance in the forums

"There is no race, there are no genders, there is no age." This sentence comes from an advertisement by the American telephone company MCI Worldcom in 1997 and describes the supposed opportunity of the Internet, where the most diverse characteristics such as ethnicity, gender and age do not play a role. However, the current debate about forums and so-called hate postings shows more and more that inequalities often do not disappear, but are highlighted.

DER STANDARD and the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence (OFAI) want to analyze existing dynamics around gender issues over a period of two and a half years and subsequently take suitable measures to promote balanced debates in the forums and reduce destructive phenomena .

Imbalance in the forums

Even if the proportion of women among the readers of STANDARD is already almost equal to the proportion of men at 40 to 45 percent, women are still clearly underrepresented among posters at 20 percent. This distribution was determined on the basis of the former specification of "Salutation" for new registrations. The imbalance can not only be determined in terms of numbers, but also shows up again and again in terms of content in the forums, in part through women-discriminatory and sexist postings.

The aim of this project is to research the causes of this imbalance, but also the various influences on existing dynamics in gender issues. On the one hand, the experience of the moderators and, on the other hand, a language technology analysis by the OFAI help.

Language technology analysis

This language technology analysis as well as the machine learning of the software are carried out by OFAI. Computer programs are used to identify linguistic and content-related patterns on the basis of anonymized postings. The focus here is not on biological gender, but rather on social gender. This ethnomethodological concept of "doing gender" makes it possible to research gender relations in communication and, by adding "doing", to focus on cultural staging and interaction practices. The central questions are: How are genders produced? When and how are they referenced, and how do they interact? This approach also enables the significant retention of pseudonyms in the forums in the current debate about real names.

At the same time, based on existing information on the salutation of registered users and on the basis of surveys, a relationship should be established between the content and textual features of postings and the interest or willingness of readers to actively participate in the forum. On the one hand, this should be done using manual analyzes using methods from the social sciences and humanities. On the other hand, machine learning should be used to evaluate which postings arouse the interest of readers.

Strengthen balance in the forums

Since the forums of the STANDARD open up a space for social discourse, this research project aims to promote a gender balance in the forums and to eliminate negative phenomena relating to women in the forums. This research project should therefore not only analyze existing dynamics within the forums, but also open up measures to counteract the phenomenon of discrimination against women. The forums should not only become more attractive for women to post, but also to read.

In this day and age, when ethnicity, gender and age still play such an important role on the Internet, this project aims to ensure that these categories fade into the background and that the content in the forums plays a bigger role. (Alina Huster, Brigitte Krenn, November 20, 2018)

On the subject

The project is funded by the City of Vienna through the Vienna Business Agency. A fund of the City of Vienna.