Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Just the facts ma'am

Some research on how women and men use the Internet provides an example of how statistics are distorted by the media. Here are the actual findings:

Men and women are equally likely to log on from work, to have Internet sessions of varying length, to access the net daily or only every few weeks, to have dial-up at home or at work. Men and women are equally likely to use a search engine, to get information on hobbies, to get travel information, to buy a product on the Internet, to buy or make travel reservations, to watch videos or to listen to audios, to visit a government website, to look up phone numbers or addresses, to take a virtual tour, to instant message, to bank, to play online games, to get information on where to live, to get information on someone, to share files, to read a blog, to download computer games, to donate to charity, to send e-invitations, to create a blog, to take classes for credit, to play lottery or gamble and to order from spam.

That's a long list of statistical measures where no significant variation was found. Men were much more likely to download porn and sport results, and more likely to take part in auctions. There were two additional measures where there were small differences:

More men, 30%, than women, 25%, said the internet helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women, 56%, than men, 50%, said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach. These differences are statistically significant.

But this research is reported by Reuters as follows:

Men want facts, women seek relations on Web - survey

This is simply a distortion of the stats. Men, for instance, are almost twice as likely to use the Internet to 'build social connections' than they are to 'learn about what was going on'. The gender difference of 50% / 56% may be statistically significant, but it isn't practically significant - it doesn't indicate a strong gendered divide in behaviour - for any group of internet users approximately half will interact socially over the web, regardless of gender. It doesn't for instance mean that men who use the Internet for social interaction are behaving in a feminine manner.

Even the research report itself is built to suggest a stereotypical picture which is not supported by its own statistics. For instance on Page 5 the subheading is 'Men pursue and consume information online more aggressively than women.' You get that? They pursue aggressively (as Mal says 'You find it Impulsive and Manly?'). But here are the actual statistics in that subsection:

90% of online men and 91% of online women use search engines; 88% of men and 86% of women say they find the information they are looking for; 54% of men and 40% of women have self-confidence as searchers.

There is no significant difference in searching behaviour or success, but men are more self confident. That is the finding. It's probably an interesting one - women are harsher on themselves though they are just as good - but it isn't reflected in the headline.

From Echidne.
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