The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg. Photo: Getty
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Why are women in politics less authoritative on Twitter? Because men are less likely to retweet and follow them

There were 4.9 times as many likes and retweets for male political journalists than female ones across Twitter as a whole during the general election campaign, Lissted found.

We all know that men in politics tend to shout more loudly than women, but when a big data analysis showed that there wasn’t a single female voice in the top ten most influential British political journalists on Twitter during the recent general election campaign, the general reaction was “Whaat?”

Or, in Yvette Cooper’s case, “FFS!”

 

 

Well, it now turns out that Cooper herself was part of the problem. She retweeted just one female political journalist during the course of the whole campaign, compared with 22 men. And she’s not alone. The social media data analytics company Lissted carried out a detailed analysis to try to find out why British female political journalists are less influential on Twitter than men.

It has discovered that there were 4.9 times as many likes and retweets for male political journalists than female ones across Twitter as a whole during the election campaign, and 4.3 times as many retweets from “influencers”: people and organisations who are widely followed in the Twittersphere.

Of course, there are fewer women than men in British political journalism: the analysis found a ratio of 37:63. But even if you correct for this difference, men are still disproportionately listened to and then disproportionately amplified. Other factors, like numbers of followers and numbers of tweets, only explain a small part of the difference too.

The sexism begins with “following” behaviour. Influencers are much more likely to follow men than women, particularly if they’re male themselves. An egregious example is the BBC’s Andrew Neil, whose male/female following ratio, even after being adjusted for the preponderance of men in political journalism, is 76:24.

More surprising, perhaps, are the Today presenter Nick Robinson, whose adjusted ratio is 67:33 and the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who is the most male-biased of the top influencers, at an adjusted 75:25. (I promised Adam Parker, the founder of Lissted, that I would publish his findings for my own Twitter account, however embarrassing they turned out to be. To my great relief, they are exactly 50:50.)

Even after controlling for the greater number of male political journalists in the first place, Lissted finds that 82 per cent of male influencers follow more male political journalists than female ones and so do 66 per cent of female influencers. (A special shout-out to Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Dan Hodges, Owen Jones and Jon Snow for following more women than men, after adjustments.)

So if these female political journalists aren’t even being listened to in the first place, perhaps it’s not surprising that they get retweeted less than men. But that turns out to be only a small part of the explanation. Lissted calculates that just 12% of the gender gap can be accounted for by them having fewer followers and 13% by the fact that male political journalists tweet slightly more often than female ones.

Could it just be that men are more opinionated than women and that opinion is more likely to be retweeted than simple fact? The analysis shows that male journalists’ tweets were more likely to contain opinions than womens’, but this explains only 0.5% of the gap.

The biggest factor, accounting for 39% of the difference, is simply that people of both genders retweeted male political journalists more than female ones. Male influencers retweeted men to women in a ratio of 83:17, and female infuencers in a ratio of 77:23, making an average total of 81:19. After adjusting for the greater number of male journalists, the fact that they have more followers and that they tweet more often, the ratio is still 63:37.

In other words, influencers accord male views nearly twice the authority of female ones, once you control for all other variables. Unless you genuinely think that female political journalists such as Laura Kuenssberg, political editor of the BBC, or Anushka Asthana and Heather Stewart, political editors of The Guardian, are innately half as interesting or well-informed as their male counterparts, this is pretty much the best measure we have of naked sexism at the upper reaches of Twitter.

So what can we do about it? Well, if you’re on Twitter, you can look at who you follow and check that the list isn’t overwhelmingly male. You can also count your retweets and see whether you’re giving a greater voice to men than to women. Lissted calculates that if the most active influencers, who do most of the retweeting, were simply more mindful of their retweeting ratios, we could get to parity pretty quickly.

And that matters, as amplification is the main job of Twitter. If men’s voices are heard more often and spread more widely than women’s, then our political conversation is being distorted and women’s views are being drowned out. It really is time to ask ourselves some awkward questions. If the most powerful political journalist in the country, Laura Kuenssberg, can’t even make it into the top ten most influential political journalists on Twitter, what does that tell us about how seriously we take women in 21st-century Britain?

Mary Ann Sieghart is a journalist, broadcaster and chair of the Social Market Foundation think tank. She is currently working on a book about how we perceive women’s authority.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.