1. Women’s voices on common social media platforms appear less influential and have less reach than their male counterparts in the health policy and health service research arena, suggesting that social media may re-enforce known gender disparities in academic medicine.
Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)
It has been shown that women in academic medicine experience lower visibility and academic success than their male counterparts. The objective of this cross-sectional analysis of publicly available data was to describe gender differences in Twitter use and influence among health service researchers. Using a sampling group of 6,442 speakers and co-authors of research presented at AcademyHealth’s 2018 Annual Research Meeting, 3,148 health service researchers were identified (1,668 females and 1,480 males) using online searches, of which 919 (492 females and 427 males) used Twitter. Twitter’s application program interface was used to extract metrics regarding Twitter use and reach for the last 3,200 tweets. A natural language processing model was used to predict the gender of users’ followers and those they followed. Outcomes of interest were number and gender of users’ followers and those they followed, and influence of users’ tweets in terms of likes and re-tweets. Study findings showed that women were more likely to have female followers (54.8% of users followed by women were women, versus 42.6% followed by men). Women were also found to have substantially less influence on Twitter as well, with half the mean number of followers (567.5 (SD 1819.7) vs. 1162.3 (3056.2), p<0.001), and their tweets generating fewer annual mean likes (315.6 (SD 659.8) vs. 577.6 (1281.8)) and re-tweets (207.4 (SD 403.6) vs. 399.8 (876.6)). Likes and re-tweets per tweet were also significantly lower amongst women compared to men (likes: 3.8 (SD 4.8) vs. 4.5 (4.8); re-tweets: 2.4 (SD 2.2) vs. 3.1 (3.4)). Gender differences held across all levels of Twitter activity, and were generally largest among full professors. The findings of this study therefore suggest that while social media is often considered an equitable platform to represent both men and women in academic medicine, women’s voices on Twitter appear less influential and have less reach than their male counterparts, potentially re-enforcing gender disparities.