Together with the Inter-American Development Bank, Alto Data Analytics conducted a big data analysis to understand the gender-based stereotypes related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in Latin American social media users.

By analyzing the social media conversation, we wanted to answer the question – How do social media users in Latin America talk about girls and women within the field of science, technology, engineering and math? For six weeks in April and May of 2016, we analyzed social media activities such as comments, shares and likes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms in all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries in the Americas.

The results of our analysis indicated it’s socially acceptable for girls and young women to be bad at STEM and that support for females in STEM is negligible in Latin American social media. However, our analysis also revealed a silver lining when we discovered Olga Medrano, the 17-year-old Mexican also known as Lady Mathematics. She was the first Mexican to win gold at the 2016 European Mathematical Olympiad:

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Olga Medrano, Lady Mathematics and gold winner at 2016 European Mathematical Olympiad

Using Alto Analyzer, our proprietary big data software, we were able to uncover these results by systematically condensing and visualizing unprecedented amounts of user information. We applied Alto’s patented algorithms for community detection to extract network structures from STEM-based social media activity.

Our methodology consisted of first setting each post in the population as a complete community, where the influence of the post was measured as the sum of interactions (retweets, likes, etc) it receives, weighted by the influence of the users who interacted with that post. Our data scientists began to identify 37 distinctive communities, representing 72% of the public comments analyzed, then sorted them by language and core narratives, which facilitated our exploration and enabled us to derive 11 key insights.

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Network Analysis of Spanish Discourse Communities with Core Narratives
Portugese comunity

Network Analysis of Portuguese Discourse Communities with Core Narratives

11 Key Insights

The core narratives in both Spanish and Portuguese that emerged were diverse. We found narratives related to science as well as humour – sometimes ironic, sometimes sexists. Each brings attention to the reality of how females are perceived in STEM on social media and more importantly, how females perceive themselves:

1 From half a million STEM-based social media activities in Latin America only 4% are in support of women and girls in STEM.

275% of all interactions (likes, retweets, comments) of self-deprecating mathematics posts are done by young women.

3In Latin American, 75% of all digital interactions of posts that are critical of STEM are done by young women.

4 In Brazil, 87% of followers of posts criticizing mathematics are young women.

5 “I use the calculator even for 2+2. I’m not perfect I’m pretty” was tweeted by a social media user with close to 600,000 followers.

6In Latin America 1 of every 3 social media shares from students about women and girls in STEM are sexist or refer to sexists content.

7 For 1 share that attributes a discovery to a female scientist, there are 6 shares that credit a male scientist for a discovery.

8 Youth are 6 times more likely to see a male than a female scientist in social media image shares.

9 The analysis of thousands of image shares of people working in STEM indicate the gender bias: 2,914 male scientists for 397 women research assistants and 99 female scientists).

10 Of all 17,129 social media shares of new Latin American STEM policies zero support women in STEM in their comments.

11 1 in every 4 of viral STEM images shared in social media make sexist comments about women and girls in STEM in the region.

It’s Fashionable to be Smart

Despite the disheartening truths our analysis uncovered, we believe there is room for hope if the right policies and social role models become the norm. Our analysis also points in the grand impact Olga Medrano created upon receiving her medal in mathematics. She created a viral movement that later placed her as a role model for females around the world in campaigns such as #HeForShe by The United Nations and was also featured on the front page of Forbes Magazine Mexico:

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Article written by Clarissa Watson, Head of Marketing