Twitter Engineers Flag Gender-Specific Posts, and Some Are Doozies

By Cameron Scott 

Twitter introduced targeted advertising based on user’s gender yesterday, as reported on All Twitter. The company thinks it can figure out who’s male and who’s female, based on the name linked to an account, who the user follows, and — suggested in a tweet by a data scientist who worked on the project — what s/he tweets. But the list of tweets meant to show off Twitter’s success pointed out some of the sadder aspects of human nature.

Edward Chen listed real tweets that help differentiate women from men, and nobody came out looking good. Not women, not men, and not Twitter for looking for gender in such stereotypical places; and for missing some of the sad ironies of the gender signifiers it pointed to with an implied, “Eureka! I’ve found it!”

(Less than 20 percent of software developers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

To wit, the top post listed that women, but not men, tweet is the childish whine, “My tummy hurts.” With “Tummy ache” and “My boobs hurt” also on the list, it doesn’t take a rocket data scientist to realize women are tweeting when they feel lousy from their periods.

User @k_hoppps makes [note: user photo NSFW] that quite clear: “My tummy f-ing hurts. Seriously f- you period. F- being a girl. Give me a penis NOW #HURRY.”

There were also some eating disorders suggested in the “tummy hurts” posts. (One user tweeted “Ate so much food for dinner I have been incapable of moving for the past hour. I feel so grim. My tummy hurts.”)

There were some girlie exclamations that seem to confirm negative stereotypes about women. But then again, doesn’t this kind of data crunching specifically look for the lowest common denominator?

• Need to do my nails.
• I want Starbucks.
• I want to go shopping!
• My hair smells so good.

and, in first place in the race to the bottom,
• I’m such a b-ch.

You have to admit, there are some engraved invitations to marketers here.

As for men, it can be hard to figure out, based on their tweets, why they’re on Twitter at all. You can almost hear the laconic grunts in posts like “You too, man,” and “Out of bounds.” Never has anyone had so much trouble reaching 140 characters. The live feed of women’s post that Chen links to also updates much faster than the men’s tweets.

Here’s one invitation to marketers: “Thursday Night Football.” But marketers are surely already isolating football fans based on gender to degrees that some argue is distorted: Plenty of women watch professional football. The top post Chen flags for men is “What a comeback!”

The one tweet Chen identifies as clearly male that expresses a real feeling while, perhaps not coincidentally being a complete sentence, is “I need to get back in the weight room.” Burly, yes, but the tweet also reflects poor body image. One user followed the tweet with #GettingTooSkinny, another with #gettingfat, a third with #outofshape.

What do you think about Twitter identifying people by gender based on what they tweet? What do these posts say to you about gender?