Gender, language and power in the public sphere surrounding online news: A cross cultural comparison
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The development of Internet technologies and their increasing influence on everyday life has greatly changed the way citizens inform themselves. Perhaps the most interesting difference has been the increasing participation of citizens in the news process, brought about by the use of Web 2.0 features on news sites. Many have described such technologies as bringing about a new, online public sphere, where citizens can openly engage in dialog. This thesis explores gender differences in participation and use of online news commenting forums, arguably one of the most popular participatory features of modern news sites. We consider three online news sites, one American, The New York Times, and two Greek, Ta Nea and To Vima, analyzing the comments that follow their online published articles. We compare the ratio of men to women who are participating by posting their comments and we also examine whether gender differences in participation can be explained by differing levels of interest across news topics. Finally, we analyze the linguistic style that men and women participants use in their comments, in order to determine whether certain linguistic characteristics and/or behaviors that are traditionally associated with each gender are traceable in the comments examined. Results show that the gender gap is a reality in the online news commenting forums examined. The gender divide in participation was quite evident in both the American and Greek news sites while clearly more pronounced in the Greek news sites. Our results also showed that this divide is present regardless of the article’s topic. A clear finding was also the general trend of choosing – knowingly or not – an ambiguous user name. The linguistic, stylistic analysis of the Greek comments showed that gender differences in communication are profoundly visible; men and women use the stereotypical language of their gender group. Nevertheless, we observe interesting deviations to the norm. While men continue to express themselves linguistically “like men” they do often adopt women’s language behaviors. Meanwhile women continue to maintain their gender’s stereotypical communication style, in other words communicating like women.