Internet viewed differently by men and women
Posted on March 16th, 2011

By Philip Fernando, former Deputy Editor Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka

Do men and women look at the internet with different eyes? Is the Internet inherently biased? WebƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s promise of broad-based access looked far-flung judging by inequalities that had sprung up? Most social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Jezebel seemed popular with women while Wikipedia the free encyclopedia showed an 85 percent male participation. That disparityƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a statistical impossibility— could not be fathomed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ WikipediaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s over 3.5 million articles in English were fed by more men 85 to 15 percent even though there was unrestricted access to edit articles -easy instructions for editing were provided. The Wikipedia Foundation seemed determined to increase female participation to 25 percent by 2015.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ What accounted for this imbalance? The domination by male-editors inputting Wikipedia site came to be extensively scrutinized. Why such preponderance occurred looked a little baffling.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Fight to dominate critical mass

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Critical mass defined the minimum numerical strength needed for a group in a social system to generate a well-balanced thought process. A groupƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s small size tended to make its representation a mere token. The larger the group, the better its ability to sustain the momentum towards further growth.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Many felt that the ascendency struggle within the Wikipedia among peers stemmed from belligerent communication styles of editors and the contentious clash over use of language, content, and thought processƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the critical mass itself.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Facts and concepts were challenged, not always using the most polite vocabularyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚thus contents tended to be swayed by males. Internet attracts inflammatory anonymity adding fuel to the fire–by no means a friendly peer review process. Such environs seemed unappealing to many women.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The lecturing tone seemed common place: a simple statement like ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Indo-Aryan language derived from an earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian stageƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚would immediately lead to prolonged discussions.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Matching wits in social networking

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Social networking sites like Facebook provided a contrasting difference as the tone seemed civil. Women were more immersed in the process and not put off by the tone of the discussions elsewhere. They could match wits with anyone in social net-working.

Social networking is more leisurely and less inhibitingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚sharing became the underlying motivation. Women excelled at nurturing and building bridges.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Internet search engines became exhaustive depositaries of knowledge and its underlying broad-base approach seemed laudable. Yet the jostle to get a point of view across incurred a punchy push and shove: the fight to get oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s voice heard favoured those with muscle.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Editing is unnerving because it conveys an attempt to tidy up what someone had spent hours constructing. The hassle to cancel each othersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ contributions out and deciphering the conflicting points of view and accuracy of facts were maddening.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Turf battle ethics

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Others would argue that defending the turf or oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s point of view was what writing constituted. Search engines also tend to attract more vigorous input than the social networks.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Wikipedia made a valiant effort to keep to high standards for research– to make it available to all people through a social and collaborative process of knowledge construction. Yet a concept may have to be defended and a position may need to be protected against others who seek to wipe all.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Women definitely would not shy away from any confrontation in any one-on- one basis. They are quite expressive and posses equal ability to work collaboratively to construct bodies of knowledge as men. They defended their point of view quite well.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Strict debate guidelines seemed one way to ensure full participation of allƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚or else the turf battle would detrimentally limit valuable input. WikipediaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s open forum would continue to be the place to collaboratively construct knowledge and share it with others. The bitter fist fights and successive edit wars needed stricter direction.

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