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Gender Biases in the Social Sharing of Academic Research

The next speaker at Social Media and Society is Stefanie Haustein, who begins by highlighting the substantial gender gap in academia – especially at higher levels of employment, but also in academic publishing and citation patterns. Similarly, there was a substantial gender gap online, at least early on, and this has balanced out only in relatively recent times, especially also since the advent of social media (with some social media platforms very substantially female-dominated).

Male academics still have a greater Web presence, and are more likely to blog (sorry); also, more scientific papers are tweeted by men, even though overall social media have a tendency to flatten academic hierarchies. Some of these patterns are being addressed by proposed altmetrics frameworks, which move well beyond conventional citation activities and are incorporating more balanced, inclusive, and democratic sources of citation and distribution data – can this also address the gender gap in academic publishing, then?

The present study drew data on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Mendeley across some 14 disciplines to generate altmetrics for academic citations – here, with a particular focus on the apparent gender of the first author. This captured some 770,000 papers, roughly two-thirds of which were first-authored by a male author.

But choosing the appropriate indicators for analysing this is also non-trivial. By most indicators, however, the gender bias is less pronounced than it is for conventional citations, although there is still some male dominance amongst the very top, most shared papers.

This also differs across fields and platforms, and to some extent this matches with traditional distinctions into 'hard' and 'soft' sciences. Facebook and Twitter appeared to be most gender-balanced, while Mendeley is more female-, and blogs and especially Wikipedia are more male-dominated. What remains largely unknown, however, is what kind of impact this kind of sharing, especially on the mainstream social media platforms, does have, because we know very little about the people doing the sharing.