Have women got Twitter clout?
The Independent recently released a list of ‘The Twitter 100: Britain’s titans of the Twittersphere’.
Of these top 100 Twitter influencers, only 18 are women. This is, in a strange way, both surprising and unsurprising.
On the one hand, social media is considered to be more open and democratic and therefore, more ‘women-friendly’. To then have only 18 women among the Twitter top 100 is disappointing.
On the other hand, such ‘power lists’ are not new. We are used to seeing men-only or men-dominated lists of top sportspersons, top political journalists, top academics and so on. So, the lack of women on the Twitter top 100 list may not be that surprising.
The panel debate was be facilitated by Julie Tomlin, Words of Colour’s creative programmes manager and WVoN co-editor, and chaired by Words of Colour’s executive director Joy Francis.
The panelists – Sanam Dolatshahi (BBC Persian Television presenter), Lis Howell (head of Broadcast and TV Journalism at City University), Hana Riaz (black Muslim feminist blogger and writer) and Minna Salami (founder/editor of MsAfropolitan.com) – discussed the topic ‘Have women got Twitter clout?’
Riaz began by querying who the gatekeepers of these lists might be. Other panelists agreed, pointing out that as they are compiled according to very patriarchal definitions of authority and influence, it’s hardly surprising that they end up being male dominated.
Even power lists for traditionally ‘female’ fields such as cooking and fashion tend to be dominated by men.
Howell pointed out that the same situation prevails in mainstream media. More often than not, when women do appear on television participating in discussions/debates, they are assigned the role of the ‘victim’. And those few times that women are invited as experts, they are expected to discuss ‘niche topics’.
Media campaigners are currently trying to get broadcasters to sign a pledge to ensure that at least 30 per cent of guest pundits are women.
So who, if anyone, should be blamed?
No one, said Salami. Instead we need to think of how to move forward. Blame, she said, is often heaped on women themselves on the (spurious) ground that we indulge in rivalry and don’t promote each other on Twitter. Or that women don’t want to participate in confrontational debates/discussions.
While Twitter and other social media platforms, to a certain extent, democratise the process of information sharing, they should not be seen as a utopian space, warned Dolatshahi. Harassment, bullying, violence and hierarchical power relations are still played out in the virtual world.
Recent reports on misogynistic abuse against Louise Mensch on Twitter and naming and blaming of the nineteen year old raped by Ched Evans (again on Twitter) and the long-standing debate on misogyny on the Guardian’s Comment is Free are a few examples of violence against women in the so-called safe space of social media.
But Twitter does provide a way to develop global networks, get yourself heard and make a change – and as long as women can do that, they have Twitter clout, concluded the panelists.