Tech

Women journalists say ‘bollocks’ to the theory they’re not tweeting strong opinions

A list of the most influential journalists on Twitter during the UK’s general election has failed to include a single female journalist.

Right after a record number of women were elected to Parliament, researchers are claiming that women journalists get less engagement on Twitter because they often remain "neutral" while male journalists "express strong political opinions."

Mashable spoke to some of the UK’s most prominent political journalists, who declared the claims a load of "bollocks."

Social listening company Lissted claims to have analysed the tweets of thousands of the top political influencers. Over 14,000 tweets from 2,756 key Twitter accounts were assessed, and a list of top influencers was compiled based on the number of retweets and likes, in addition to the average engagement rate of certain tweets.

Lissted tweeted an infographic showing its "top ranked journalists and media outlets" featuring 10 male journalists and five media outlets. But, there was one rather glaring omission: Women.

Following criticism from MPs and female journalists, Lissted published a follow-up statement on the notable absence of women from its findings. Lissted named three major political journalists — Laura Kuenssberg, Jessica Elgot, and Claire Phipps — and stated they "don’t receive the level of engagement that the top male ones do." Lissted then added that female journalists’ purported tendency to remain neutral was responsible for this lack of engagement.

"One theory is it may partly reflect the fact that the women journalists are more frequently neutral and are reporting ‘the news,’ whereas some of the top men include ones who express strong political opinions," read the statement.

‘Complete bollocks’

Kay Burley, a founding member of the Sky News team, said she thinks the theory that women journalists aren’t expressing strong political opinions on Twitter "complete bollocks."

"A quick look at my Twitter feed illustrates that I am very engaged with my almost 400,000 followers on all aspects of life especially politics at the moment," says Burley.

She says that while she has a "strong, but neutral" voice, she gives politicians across all parties "a good kicking" when she feels it’s appropriate.

"To suggest we are meek and mild is to take us back 50 years. Shame on them," she added.

Emily Maitlis, presenter of the BBC’s election coverage and Newsnight, says she finds the research "incredibly short-sighted." She says while she’s minded to label the findings a "massive failure of imagination" by the list’s compiler, she does believe that Twitter can be an unwelcoming audience for women’s strong opinions.

"It’s easier of course to find loud opinionated men on Twitter — that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the only voices you want to follow," says Maitlis.

"Whilst social media can be a dirty business for everyone, it can as we’ve seen so many times — including through the courts — be a particularly unpleasant place for women who dare to voice an opposing view," she added. Maitlis said that might therefore be understandable if some women feel they can find "better ways to get their thoughts across" than in 140 characters and an exclamation mark.

Freelance political journalist Abi Wilkinson said she was highly sceptical of the methodology, but she added that she knows she’s "certainly very opinionated on social media, as are lots of other women."

Granted, there are some journalists — both female and male — who are expected to remain neutral on Twitter when reporting political news. But, to say that female journalists across the board frequently remain neutral is plain inaccurate.

Female journalists express strong opinions. Please don’t tell us otherwise.

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