Male journalists ignore female peers on Twitter, study shows

Jim Waterson Media editor
Male journalists reply to each other 91.5% of the time, according to the study. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Male journalists dominate online political discussion because they mainly interact with other men and ignore women, according to a study of American political reporters.

The research found male political journalists based in Washington DC reply to other male journalists 91.5% of the time, suggesting female journalists are struggling to make their voices heard in discussion of the Donald Trump era.

Nikki Usher of the University of Illinois, who helped author the study, said it was a problem because debate on Twitter helped frame political reporting on other websites and as a result, the site could be inadvertently marginalising female journalists in “gender silos”.

The study looked at 2,292 Twitter accounts belonging to Washington DC-based journalists who are accredited to cover the US Congress and known as beltway journalists. It found that while there are only slightly more male than female reporters who meet this standard, men are far more likely to tweet more, retweet each other and, on average, have twice as many followers.

“The gender imbalances present on beltway journalism Twitter are another case showing women do not receive adequate recognition or attention for their creative labour,” the report said.

It said the importance of Twitter to political journalism means this “may well create an even greater structural disadvantage for female journalists, given how this platform is so critical to success in beltway journalism”.

Out of the 25 beltway journalists who are most followed by other beltway journalists, all but four are men. Male journalists also retweet their male peers three-quarters of the time. The study was based on a month’s worth of Twitter data, which was collected in 2017.

“Most alarming is that male journalists amplify and engage male peers almost exclusively, while female journalists tend to engage most with each other,” the report found.

The report also suggested men are more likely to tweet their opinions and reporting, which ultimately gives them an advantage in terms of being heard. It suggested women may be too busy trying to prove themselves in newsrooms or doing “more emotional labour at home and at work” than their male counterparts, who are free to tweet more regularly and build up their online profile.

As a result, it is possible that “women see a diminished utility from time spent on an emotionally burdensome platform relative to their other work responsibilities”, researchers added.