Anonymous tweeters may have just become a little less anonymous. Researchers have put together an algorithm that can predict the gender of a tweeter based solely on the 140 characters they choose to tweet. Of course, determining the gender of an Internet personality has its monetary benefits for Twitter. "Marketing is one of the major motivators here, adding that he had heard talk that Twitter was internally working on similar demographically identifying algorithms internally," linguist Delip Rao told Fast Company's David Zax. But it could also help identify phonies misrepresenting themselves. Like, say, older men pretending to be lesbian bloggers. Remember when the Gay Girl in Damascus revealed himself as a middle-aged man from Georgia?
The crux of the research relies on the idea that women use language differently. "The mere fact of a tweet containing an exclamation mark or a smiley face meant that odds were a woman was tweeting, for instance," reports Zax. Other research corroborates these findings, finding that women tend to use emoticons, abbreviations, repeated letters and expressions of affection. Linguists can even detect the tweeters' true identities by how they use the word "my." If you're trying to determine the gender of your favorite Twitterati, the following charts show some markers of woman and man-like Twitter behaviors.
Women tweet about other things besides shopping and chocolate, emphasizes Zax. But these findings do mean that if any of those words appear in a tweet the tweeter is probably female--based on this algorithm the program guessed correctly 75.8 percent of the time.
Sure, pinpointing the identity of Internet users gives marketers a target. There's a reason some people get Nuva ring ads as they listen to Pandora. But perhaps the algorithm has benefits beyond marketing, like identifying phonies.
On a platform like Twitter, which doesn't ask for much biographical information, it's easy (and fun!) to take on a fake persona. But sometimes people with faux online identities go too far. Like the Gay Girl in Damascus, who inspired readers with her words, only to come out as a very straight man from America. Or the editor of Lez Get Real, a "lesbian mother," who later revealed himself as a 58-year-old straight man. There's a fine line between privacy and honesty on the Internet, and sometimes identifying the person behind the Tweet has its benefits.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.