Could tweeting about sexism help our health?

It might not seem like Twitter has any obvious health benefits, but according to a new study, tweeting about sexism has the potential to improve women’s wellbeing because it feels like we’re making a difference.

Dr Mindi Foster from Wilfrid Laurier University and her team recruited 93 female students and gave them information about sexism in politics, the media, and universities. They then split the women into three groups: one they asked to tweet publicly, one privately, and a third didn’t tweet. The tweeters could choose for themselves what to say and when.

Their messages were later analysed for emotional content, and the most common feelings expressed were surprise and discontent. The women also filled in mood and wellbeing questionnaires during the three-day experiment. The researchers found that the women who tweeted publicly reported feeling increasingly good, whereas the non-tweeters and the private group had no change in mood.

Dr Foster concluded that the women found tweeting about sexism empowering, and cites the success of campaigns like Everyday Sexism as an example of how drawing attention to sexism has given women the impetus to speak out: ‘We know women can be badly affected by experiences of sexism and that responding publicly can be stressful and risky. This study examined whether using Twitter to respond to sexism could be done in a public way without any negative effects to their wellbeing.’

It’s fantastic that the women in the study felt better after highlighting sexism, and I’d certainly love to believe that Twitter is good for our health. But I think it would probably be more accurate to study current high-profile female Twitter users, particularly the ones who tweet about sexism, because anecdotal evidence suggests that there’s a lot of pushback, including death and rape threats, that surely can’t improve their wellbeing. And maybe it this was quantified, social networks would take online abuse more seriously.

Dr Foster and her team plan to investigate social media-based collective action further, so here’s hoping they extend their research to people on the front lines of internet misogyny ASAP.

Image via Pixabay.

Diane Shipley