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Gender and social media

Ever wondered why there are more women than men on Pinterest? Or noticed that trolls are often male? Take a look at some fascinating gender-specific behaviors on social.

News vs friendships

To start with the basics: while men are online to search for information, women use the platforms predominantly to connect with people. Studies also show that men open social media accounts to network and form new relationships, and women – to sustain existing ones.

Content kings and queens

Female Facebook users tend to share more personal issues (e.g., family matters, relationships) on social media, whereas men discuss more abstract topics (e.g., politics), found Facebook’s research team after analyzing 1.5m status updates published on the platform. The data was categorized in topics, and each was evaluated on the basis of both gender preferences and audience reactions. Men and women not only prefer certain topics, but distinct ‘female’ topics (e.g. Birthday, Family fun) tend to receive more likes from other users, while clearly ‘male’ topics (e.g. Sports, Deep thoughts) elicit more comments.

We can’t infer, however, that women are not interested in abstract topics enough as to share them. One of the reasons why female users are more reticent online is negative feedback. It is confirmed that women receive more abusive comments when expressing their opinions. A telling example is this Twitter experiment done by British journalist Martin Belam. He created a spoof account on politics, in which he pretended to guest-tweet as different male and female celebrities. When he presented himself as a woman, the account received more offensive comments, and even blatantly misogynist ones. Similar results come from The Guardian: a content analysis of 70 million readers’ comments on their website showed that 8 of the 10 most abused journalists are women.

Totally HerSelfie

Depending on what men and women like to talk about on social media, their platform of choice may also vary. Female users generally prefer visual platforms. Men, on the contrary, like more text-oriented ones. Indeed, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram have a larger female user base, while online discussion forums such as Reddit or Digg count more male users.

But why are women drawn to producing and sharing visual content? Tallinn University sociologist Katrin Tiidenberg offers an interesting explanation with their role in the family: in all societies mothers were historically responsible for taking family photos. In this sense, Instagram is a modern continuation of a female practice that began with the popularization of photography.

Maybe this can partly explain why women post more selfies than men: the Selfieexploratory project for example analyzed 3800 Instagram selfies from 5 cities across the world and found that the number of female selfies was always much higher. A recent study from the Ohio State University even suggests that men who take many selfies tend to have narcissistic or psychopathic personalities.

But it’s not just a knack for photography that makes girls strike a pose.


Trimmed up for some likes

All content we post – photos especially – is motivated by a desire to make a good impression on others. Women and men, however, differ significantly in their self-presentation on social media. For example, women post more portrait photos with direct eye contact, while men prefer more full body shots that include other people. Male users are also more likely to post more outdoor photographs that present them in an adventurous light.

These differences widen with younger users. Several studies show that teenagers often use gender stereotypes to build their social media personas. For instance, teenage girls post overtly seductive photos of themselves, while boys share pictures related to risky behaviors, alcohol or sex. Girls also tend to share more ‘cute’ pictures, too (think of those puppies!).

A Northwestern University study found that male users are generally more self-promotional on social media. They are more likely to show their creative work, like writings, music or videos, online. Almost two-thirds of men reported posting their work online compared to only half of women.

She said: “OMG!!”, he said: “Yeah”

Research shows that men and women also talk differently on social media.

Men are more likely to use authoritative language and more formal speech than women. They respond more negatively in interactions, as well, whereas women use ‘warmer’ and more positive words.

Women also use words more emotionally. A recently published study examined 15.4 million status updates made by 68,000 Facebook users and found that words describing positive emotions (e.g., “excited”, “happy”, “love”), social relationships (e.g., “friends”, “family”), and intensive adverbs (e.g., “sooo”, “sooooo”, “ridiculously”) were predominantly used by women. In comparison, male topics were fact-oriented and included words related to politics (e.g., “government”, “tax”), sports and competition (e.g., “football”, “season”, “win”, “battle”).

It’s even possible to identify the gender of social media users by looking at their writing style. Researchers Rao et al. from John Hopkins University analyzed the language of Twitter users and found that women use more emoticons and emphasize more on punctuation – ellipses (…), exclamations (!!!), puzzled punctuation (?!). The expressions ‘OMG’ and ‘lol’ are predominantly used by women, while the affirmation ‘yeah’ is associated with men.


Men and women differ in their pragmatic use of language, too: men use linguistic entities related to information (longer words, more prepositions, attributes), while women are more likely to use words and word classes aimed at relating with others (more pronouns, shorter words).  Congruent with this are the findings of a content analysis of 14.000 Twitter users. Researchers D. Bamman, J. Eisenstein, and T. Schnoebelen identified the 10.000 most used lexical items (both individual words and word-like items such as emoticons and punctuation) and discovered that female authors write with more personal pronouns (e. g. “you”, “me”), use non-standard spelling of words more often (e. g. expressive lengthening of words such as ‘Nooo waaay’), as well as more hesitant words (‘hmm’, ‘umm’).  Swears and taboo words, on the other hand, were strongly associated with male users.

Men are also more likely to engage in trolling, or aggressive language, online. Psychology Professor Mark Griffiths explains male trolling with the fact that men use the Internet as an easy way to vent their aggression, something they are not able to do in face-to-face communication, unlike women.

Interestingly, male language also appears to be more possessive. Male Facebook users include the possessive pronoun ‘my’ when mentioning their ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ more often than female users talking about their husband or boyfriends, found another researcher team.

To sum up

Men and women communicate differently in real life, which naturally reflects in how they use social media. They post about different things, prefer certain platforms and even use language differently. Some findings might appear obvious, others are unexpected: what strikes you as most intriguing?


The vector images used to create the visuals above are from Many thanks to all authors!

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