Beltway Echo Chambers Plague Twitter

July 9, 2018

By Max Godnick

It turns out President Trump isn't the only man in Washington that's dominating Twitter.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, male Beltway journalists retweet, reply to, and follow significantly more of their male counterparts than they do women. Researchers examined around 2 million tweets from credentialed journalists in Washington, D.C., and found that men reply to other men 92 percent of the time.

"Male political journalists win on Twitter to the deficit of women," said Nikki Usher, the study's lead author and a professor at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, in an interview with Cheddar on Monday.

The study was designed to specifically focus on journalists living and working in the D.C. area to get a sense of the working environment facing reporters covering the ins and outs of Congress and the White House.

"Men and women are operating in gender echo chambers," Usher said.

She called the findings "terrible" and was taken by a striking and unexpected level of statistical significance. The study points to a digital landscape that could have very real consequences on the professional development and aspirations of female journalists covering politics.

"In Washington...Twitter is real life, and real life is Twitter more so than pretty much any other place," Usher said, adding, "if you're not represented well on Twitter, if your voice isn't heard, you're not going to get the sweet gigs on the Sunday morning shows."

Women are not represented well among the top 25 journalists followed by other journalists, accounting for just four names on the list, and none among the top ten.

"Andrea Mitchell, [of NBC News,] has been a journalist in Washington for 50 years," Usher said. "She's not even really breaking into the top 10...What does that say?"

Oftentimes, the results of social-media data analyses can be chalked up to flukes and loopholes in complicated algorithms that determine which content gets the most prominent placement. But in the case of this study, the conclusions are solely based on human behavior.

"You can't blame the algorithm," Usher said. "This is actually how journalists interact with each other."

For the full segment, click here.