Women Take The Lead

In 2007, Eszter Hargittai published the article, “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites”.  The article sets out to address a question that any netizen in today’s cybernetic era might instinctually assume mockingly rhetorical without thoroughly reading Hargittai’s investigation. Of course all “people (are) equally likely to join the various types of services that exist”.  However the result collected from 85 college freshman attending the University of Illinois, Chicago proved that demographic distinctions could have an altering effect on users online activity. More specifically Hargittai concentrates on identity representation and the manor in which different social media networks mediate a variety of interactions through systematic differences. Her study focused on the most popularly used social network sites at the time including Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, Friendster, Orkut, and Bebo. Only five years later, the credible studies of social networking sites are still focusing on only one of those six: Facebook, of course. Now what have users’ primary attention are, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr.  This alone should be enough justification to motivate Hargittai to update her analysis but recent studies on the topic point out a few more reasons.

One discovery that stood out the most to me from Hargittai’s article was that men had been shown to spend more time online and claim higher-level skills than women, especially via capital-enhancing activities rooted in socioeconomic status. I found this surprising because in today’s digital divide, I associate online activity primarily with mobility, accessibility and privilege rather than a factor as basic as gender. However, an article found on Mashable.com written by Chris Taylor and published July of 2012 actually shows that “when it comes to the two dominate social networks – Facebook and Twitter – you may be shocked to discover that women are now in the majority on both servers.” Personally, I was more astounded when Taylor said that women (especially over the age of 55) had even become the majority of users on online gaming social network sites with a ratio of 6:4. Taylor’s article did affirm Hargattai’s finding to still hold strong in some accounts when his new research illustrated that for the socioeconomic social networking site LinkedIn, 63% of users were men as well as over 2/3rd of the users on Google+. Even so, Taylor provided the reader with some interesting fun facts such as “women make more effective marketers in the field of ranching”. Further contradicting Hargittai, Taylor concludes that, “at the end of the day, women are far more active users of social networking sites, racking up an astounding 99 million more visits per month than their male counterparts.”

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There is no clear explanation for this change in activity however a possible addition to Hargittai’s research that could be investigated is the increasing use of mobile applications to access social networking sites. On October 20th, 2011 comScore Inc, a leader in measuring the digital world published results from their own study which stated, “72.2 million Americans accessed social networking sites or blogs on their mobile device in August 2011, an increase of 37 percent in the past year”. Is it possible that this new mobility has influenced female activity more so than male?  “A look at selected social networking brands, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, revealed that each grew their mobile audiences by at least 50 percent in the past year,” says Carmela Aquino of comScore Inc. However, she mentions nothing about men versus women. Hargittai concludes that “the membership of certain online communities mirrors people’s social networks in their everyday lives; thus online actions and interactions cannot be seen as tabula rasa activities, independent of existing offline identities.” It is very well possible that the increase in accessibility through mobile applications has helped transform social media networks from primarily forms of expression to strongest links of communication as much as phone calls or text messages. Speaking from personal experience, after getting my first smart phone 3 years ago, I have been able to maintain and update my social media networks more efficiently and consistently.

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