The Facebook Effect: Everybody Is So Cliché

Girls like "shopping," boys like "Xbox." Shocker.

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When it comes to social media, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. A new study published in PLOS One suggests that the words in Facebook posts by men and women are depressingly stereotypical. Hint: girls like shopping and boys like basketball. We’ve come so far.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania compared language in Facebook statuses with personality questionnaires to see what patterns emerged. The researchers were interested in whether computer analysis of language could reveal age, gender, and personality traits better than traditional psychological tools, which are often self-reported.

And the results were surprisingly accurate: psychologists and computer scientists were able to predict a user’s gender with 92% accuracy just by looking at the words in their Facebook statuses.

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They found that words like “mommy,” “boyfriend,” and “best friend” were more commonly used by women, while men tended to post words like “Xbox,” “World Cup,” and “Chuck Norris.” Women said “sooo,” “yummy,” and “super excited,” while guys said “ftw,” “epic,” and every possible variation of the F-word (we have a censored image of the real word cloud.) Girls used the word “dress” about as much as boys said “engineering.” Who used more smiley emoticons? Take a guess.

Dr. Margaret Kern, one of the researchers who conducted the study, cautioned that the word clouds represented the extremes of both genders. “It doesn’t mean that this is how all women talk, or even the majority of how all women talk,” she said. “It just means that words like this are more likely to be used by a woman than a man in this sample.”

Dr. Kern is right. But remember the our Facebook statuses are not about who we are, but rather about who we wish we were. Social media isn’t about expression, it’s about performance. So the results of this study reveal less about who the subjects are than about how they want to be perceived.

And that’s the problem.

For example, the “female” words seemed to be mostly relationship words, with the highly original additions of “my hair,” “shopping,” and “chocolate.” So it seems like girls just want their Facebook friends to know that they are a) super pretty and fun, and b) people like them.

And while there were definitely references to wives and girlfriends, “male” words were about macho performance. “Black-ops” and “call of duty” were popular, along with every possible version of every unprintable curse word. So it seems like guys want their Facebook friends to know that they are a) mad tough and b) they don’t give a F—.

Does this mean that all the well-intentioned efforts to make girls want to be smart and boys want to be caring have failed? Or does it just mean that everybody behaves like a stereotype on social media?

I’d argue for the latter. Facebook is not the place for breaking norms, it’s where we go to have those norms reinforced. If a girl is at home coding a new app, she probably wouldn’t post about it online. If a boy is snuggling with his kitten, updating his Facebook status might be the last thing he’d do.

But how is it that the most cutting-edge social technology reinforces our most outdated conventions? If social media is about projecting a cool image, and that image is still so hackneyed, then we have a lot of work to do.

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John Updike once famously said that celebrity is a “mask that eats the face.” If our online identities are a new, diluted form of celebrity, then couldn’t our social image bleed into our real selves?

It’s posturing that everyone does and everyone denies. In a TIME poll on happiness in June, 76% said that other people made themselves look happier, more attractive, and more successful online than they are in real life. But 78% of pople said that their own profile reflects how they really are. Sounds like a lot of pots looking at a lot of kettles.

Dr. Kern thinks that even if the results reflect some online posturing, those online performance sometimes come true. “There’s certainly this image-management aspect to everything, even who posts anything,” she said. “But even if that’s an image, that’s how all your friends start to see you. So in a way, that can become part of a person as well”

10 comments
abooachoo
abooachoo

Why does everything have to be about socialization? This article, and all articles like it, would be a million times more useful if they incorporated the perspective of Evolutionary Biology into their analysis. Trying to reach a conclusion about human behavior using just psychology or sociology is like trying to construct a house using an incomplete set of tools. It's a possibility-- nay, a certainty, that there are differences in brain chemistry between boys and girls that push them towards one behavior or another. Back when I was in college, whenever I debated a feminist professor, they simply did not allow for the validity of many concepts that I learned on practically day one of Biology class, most likely because they're inconvenient to their worldview. The truth is, lots of guys genuinely enjoy playing Call of Duty, and lots of girls genuinely enjoy shopping (and I'm not pulling examples out of thin air, I have brothers and sisters). Those interests would naturally spill over onto their online representation of themselves. It isn't a case of them tremblingly trying to abide by societal pressures, people are different, but sadly the only two options the author considered were expressed in this pair of sentences: "Does this mean that all the well-intentioned efforts to make girls want to be smart and boys want to be caring have failed? Or does it just mean that everybody behaves like a stereotype on social media?" At that point, as a reader, I scanned the paragraph for a third option: what if men and women are simply different? But that option never came. 


TJ_Fang
TJ_Fang

You start off with this comment, "Hint: girls like shopping and boys like basketball. We’ve come so far." Then you spend the rest of the article describing how both sexes lie and distort their daily postings so they can, in all intents and purposes, appear to comport to age old male/female stereotypes.  You seem disgusted by this and imply that society has outgrown male/female differences.

Here's a thought.  Perhaps men and women are ACTUALLY different.  I mean I'm no Times journalist but common sense and observation demonstrate that female nature is firmly grounded in emotion and relationships, while male nature is firmly grounded in the so called "macho" realm (ie: career/provider, protector, physically charged).

This doesn't mean that men can't have some feminine traits or that women can't have so called male traits.  What it should mean to any rational person is that male/female differences should be celebrated and clarified so the opposite sexes understand one an other better and improve their relationships.

The very notion that society has outgrown these differences and we need to educate men/women out of their typical male/female nature to some hybrid unisex Utopia is rather disturbing to this guy.

TurdFergus0n
TurdFergus0n

Time Magazine - your 'articles' have fallen so far down the quality scale that it seems like you're an offshoot of TMZ these days. When you print drek like this without any supporting information...you know, like sample size, demographic, time span, things that actual, real life scientists use...you may as well drop a pile of words into a hat and pull them out at random, and call those a sample. And then to have your editor allow the use of phrases when describing certain trends with a "well duh" undertone make you look as childish as the groups you're attempting to report on.

TimeCommentZA
TimeCommentZA

Yeah, definitely sounds like they surveyed the 12-25 year old group.

propolopolous
propolopolous

"Dr. Kern is right. But remember the our Facebook statuses are not about who we are..."

Fire your editors, I'll send in my resume.

MikeMartin1
MikeMartin1

This analysis of Facebook content based on gender is trivial. Considering that Facebook  content, such as photos, videos, likes, and trends are not factored in to the analysis, the whole analysis seems dated. Also there is no mention of age groups of the analysis, which would obviously skew the results.


mbillips
mbillips

The word you're looking for is clichéd. Cliché is a noun.

JacquesCuze
JacquesCuze

This is only "depressing" if you have some sort of pre-conceived agenda of what *should be*. Maybe the fault, dear Charlotte, likes not in our words, but in our feminists.

EmLyWill
EmLyWill

Being an intellectual female who prides herself on a larger vocabulary, I would nevertheless like to defend the word "shopping"-- which is of course awesome and well worth its overuse. Love, The Nerdy Shopaholic.