According to research released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, women are overwhelmingly more plugged into the social networking world than men — a trend has been increasing since at least 2009. Pew found that a whopping 75 percent of women, compared to 63 percent of men, report using social networking sites, and women compose 57 percent of Facebook, Twitter and Yelp users. Women are also more active in their social media use, with more than half of female internet users using social networking sites on a daily basis, compared to 42 percent of male internet users.
Women’s domination of the social media world is significant because women’s voices remain severely underrepresented in the media, particularly in regard to politics. A six-month study of election coverage by the research group, the 4th Estate, found that women were significantly underrepresented in coverage of the 2012 election, including even in stories on women’s issues. The report, entitled Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage, found that men were quoted about five times more often than women in news stories on abortion, birth control, and Planned Parenthood, and shocking 70 percent of quotes featured in print, radio and TV news stories were made by men. A 2012 study by the OpEd Project, a group that works to increase the range of voices in the news, also found that news outlets overwhelmingly tend to publish opinion pieces by men.
Given this climate of strikingly unequal media attention, women’s powerful presence and engagement on social media matter is particularly important. A November 2012 study by Pew found that social media is increasingly becoming a powerful arena for politics, including as a resource for political news as well as voter outreach and engagement. In August, Twitter unveiled its Twitter Political Index, leading pundits to deem Election 2012 the “Twitter Election.” According to online marketing strategist Abra Williams, “social media has redefined transparency in politics and given American citizens an opportunity to let their voices be heard.”
As major news and media outlets continue to neglect women’s voices, social media outlets have arisen as a valuable resource for women to take it to the streets, shout back, and organize on everything from sexual violence to fair pay. From Twitter to Facebook, Big Bird to binders full of women, women’s growing representation on social networking sites means that they possess the unbridled opportunity to create a much-needed outlet to express — and organize for — their voices and needs, rights and liberties.
For more more on women & technology, check out the National Democratic Institute’s panel on Women, Tech, and Democracy: The Next Frontier, from 4:00-5:30pm on Tuesday, February 19th.