Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Sexism in Science - Twitterstorm Issue

Sexism in Science – A Growing Issue That Results in a Twitterstorm

Scientists studying social media are still trying to understand the factors that can transform a quiet online debate into a raging Twitterstorm — where discussion explodes in size and virulence unpredictably and often near-instantaneously. Such events often have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences; sometimes the sound and fury prompt action. But for women who speak out about sexism, there is often a vicious backlash that can range from insults to threats of violence.

As digital technology grows to pervade more and more aspects of modern life, social media platforms like Twitter serve as a wellspring of broader discussion, conversation, and the spread of public awareness on worldwide issues. One notable focus of these eruptions centers on gender disparities in science.

On November 12, 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a spacecraft on a comet as part of the Rosetta mission, a milestone for space exploration. Twitter exploded with comments on ESA scientist Matt Taylor’s wardrobe. The Rosetta project scientist appeared in German television interviews wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt festooned with images of half-naked women. Taylor also made sexualized and suggestive comments, like “Rosetta is sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

This rapidly led to a Twitterstorm where users posted over 3,100 messages in a span of a couple of days with the hashtag #shirtstorm. The #shirtstorm and #Shirtgate hashtags prompted a wider discussion on sexism in science. The hashtag #scishirt was later created to encourage scientists to post pictures of their favorite non-sexist shirts. Millions of people beyond the original exchanges were reached via these hashtags and the resulting dialogs raised awareness on the problem of sexism in science.

Read the full article on Sexism in Science from Nature here.

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