‘Sexism 101’

It’s not very fun hosting a STEM YouTube channel if you’re a woman, study finds

Vanessa Hill hosts a science show called 'Braincraft' on YouTube.

YouTube is a crowded place and sometimes crazy — and not a particularly welcoming one for certain women.

A new study of more than 23,000 comments on the video platform solidified what might have been obvious: Women who host science-related channels are subjected to more criticism and discussion of their appearance and intelligence than males who host similar channels.

The findings, published in a new paper by Inoaka Amarasekara, an Australian researcher in science communication, and Will Grant, a lecturer at Australian National University, came after studying popular YouTube channels in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Not only are there far fewer women hosts of these topics, but criticism in the comments section was far more prevalent. As The New York Times reports, Amarasekara read each comment and manually sorted each of them into six categories: positive; negative or critical; hostile; sexist or sexual; appearance-based; and neutral or general discussion.

The researchers found that about 14 percent of comments for female on-camera hosts were critical, compared to about six percent for male hosts, writes the Times. More comments were also about their appearance or were sexist or sexual in nature.

They also seemed to draw more attention overall than male hosts, getting more comments, likes, and subscribers than series with male hosts.

Creators can block comments with certain words or derogatory statements, but that doesn’t stop people from getting around YouTube’s rules through abbreviations or other means. Once comments are flagged, they are reviewed and possibly removed by YouTube.

There’s still a wide gap between women and men working and studying in STEM fields, and unfortunately these findings won’t do much to persuade women that they’ll be taken seriously if they choose that path. “If you have diverse voices, you’ll reach more diverse audiences,” said Amarasekara. “If you want to reach more people, you need people who speak to them.”

Vanessa Hill, who hosts the show Braincraft, which has more than 400,000 subscribers, told the Times the level of negative attention, “discourages female creators from continuing to make videos and being able to do that at a professional or semi-professional level.”

With the rise of YouTube viewerships and the ability to load videos with advertisements, many YouTube creators with wide followings can actually make a living on the platform — provided, of course, they can tune out the nasty feedback.

Below, watch one of Hill’s videos, which are produced by PBS Digital Studios, in which she explains how artificial intelligence works.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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