Twitter, power lists and the question of gender
In the 1920s, at the early stages of radio establishing itself as the most influential technological medium of its time, women pursuing careers in news and political broadcasting were accused of erupting social disharmony.
Cultural commentators at the time criticised women radio announcers and pushed the message that radio must serve to make the home more attractive to women and encourage women to be housewives, consumers and mothers.
In the 21st century, how far have we moved on? Campaigners like Lis Howell from City University are encouraging broadcasters to ensure at least 30 per cent of their experts are women, and not only to talk about women’s issues, or as victims or provide case studies.
In a similar vein, women who now use the social medium of our age, Twitter, and are shaping online conversations, are also being rejected from the club of social media influencers.
Influence was measured on Twitter not only by how many followers a person has, but by how much impact they have on their followers. That is to say what level of engagement their tweets attract and what is their human algorithm.
This ‘authority’ can be measured on sites such as PeerIndex and Klout, enterprises that help individuals monitor and make the most of the social capital they have built up online. In fact, PeerIndex was the monitoring agency whose findings were used to compile “The Twitter 100”.
“The Twitter 100” list is not an anomaly, however. As far as power lists go, in my opinion it reinforces the norm; an unapologetic dominance by white, heterosexual, well-to-do-males.
Research conducted by Bright Green revealed that the top 75 left-wing blogs of 2011 as listed by total politics featured only thirteen women to thirty-one men. Even less women were authors of the top 75 right-wing blogs that total politics listed, nine out of thirty-nine. Another power list, by Left Foot Forward, assessing the most influential left-wing thinker of the year included five women out of thirty.
This week I will be part of a very different expert panel – of women social media experts, including Lis Howell, the BBC’s Sanam Dolatshahi (Iran’s first female blogger) and blogger Hana Riaz. Organised by Words of Colour we will discuss whether women have Twitter clout.
Riaz has said that “what makes social media exciting is that it has the potential to shift and change the old media systems of representation that are key in making sense of the everyday world around us.”
The good news is that like radio in its heyday, Twitter is primarily driven by content rather than by visual aids or advertising. This makes authority and influence on Twitter comparatively ungendered. When we determine whether to follow someone or not, we often scroll through their tweets to establish if theirs is the type of content that we want to read.
Once the novelty of Twitter fades, new subscribers who initially may have followed celebrities or the brand that provides them with cereal in the mornings, will instead choose to follow users that share information based on their specific interests (which, of course, might still be cereal). This process tends to make information sharing across gender and other social categories more democratic.
Rather than continue to scrutinise the outcome of what is produced by cultural gatekeepers, we must question the uniform nature of “the who” that decides what to speak about and who should speak about it.
Many have complained about the shortage of women on such lists, but no matter how influential women are on Twitter – and some statistics have shown that women hold a higher level of influence within the general Twitter population – I believe influential menfolk and their allies have been socialised to either consciously or subconsciously include but a few token women (let alone women who aren’t white, who aren’t straight and who aren’t wealthy) in their power lists.
Indeed, the more Twitter expands, and the more that women of all races, religions, sexualities, classes and so on influence people online, the more these lists fail to reflect these pressing realities.
Minna Salami is a blogger, writer, social commentator and founder/editor of the award-nominated blog MsAfropolitan.com. She is one of the panellists at Words of Colour Productions ‘Have women got Twitter clout?’ debate at the Free Word Centre on Wednesday 30 May.Tagged in: gender, social networking, The Twitter 100, twitter, women twitter
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter