Calling BS on the ‘study’ that reveals male and female social media habits

Let’s use the term ‘study’ lightly, as this is the result of research carried out by a business – BT – to show differing habits between men and women who use social media in the U.K. They haven’t revealed too many details about the methodology behind the survey, other than the fact that 2,000 people took part. Which is rather low to come out with a headline claiming to know the differences between male and female habits on social media. Yet that hasn’t stopped this story being picked up by national press and major tech sites.

And, rather worryingly, BT begin by introducing their study on the company blog with the line ‘We know men are from Mars and women are from Venus when it comes to many areas of life…’ (Nearly spat out my tea at the breakfast table). So, with that in mind, what do BT think they have found are the differences between male and female social media habits? The results are presented in an infographic, for your viewing pleasure below :

The findings

So if we are to take the above study as an indication, women are more active than men on social media, would miss it more if it were taken away, share photos and videos less, use social media for learning less, but for shopping more and game roughly about the same as men. If you’re not sure why you should take the results of this survey with a pinch of salt, look again at the terminology used to describe the different categories. Where men outperform women they are ‘social sharers’ (nice, active users of social media) and even ‘avid learners’, whereas women are simply fans and shoppers. While the titles may seem inconsequential to the results of the survey itself, be wary of the fact that where this is impacting how the results are presented, it would most definitely have impacted how the results were gathered in the first place.

Taking the results in one fell swoop, women are chatty social media users who depend on the technologies for conversation and shopping, while men use it more actively, for sharing content and for learning. Take it away from men, and they’ll do just fine.

The issues

Leaving aside the fact that it seems pretty surprising only 32% of British males ‘admit’ to using social media at all, let’s take a look a closer look at the categories used. Firstly, shopping. Fair enough, that’s pretty easy to classify. Shopping is a known habit, easy to track, evidenced by physical actions such as actually clicking to buy something online or visiting a deal comparison site. Activities it would be fairly easy for us to recall anecdotally or list as an interest :

So then let’s look at where men ‘outperform’ women, in the area of Avid Learning. Let’s ignore the pretty weak title and overly-enthusiastic use of the word ‘Avid’ and move onto the description, where BT claim to reveal how people use the ‘web to expand their knowledge or aid learning’

Sorry, what? At which point are you able to say when an online activity is for the purpose of expanding your knowledge and aiding learning, and who gets to decide what justifies ‘expanding your knowledge’ anyway? Did BT take into account considerations that women, by social conventions forced upon them are probably less likely to admit they are expanding their knowledge, taking a more humble approach than men? You would suppose not. Especially since these women that are learning less and shopping more happened to be dressed in particularly short skirts, again showing a line of sexism that if, it is influencing the presentation of the results, would also have influenced the research itself.

Studies like this that claim to reveal the fundamental differences between how men and women use social media should not be taken lightly. You simply can’t accept the findings of a survey that claims “Only 7% of men said they would miss social media [compared to 18% of women who would miss it for ‘social check-ups”], but 29% would miss online banking and other online admin.” So we are to take it that men are the doers and the learners, while women are the talkers and socialisers. Sound familiar?

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