Boy or Girl? The Secret Behind Who Really Writes What You Read

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When we read Web copy, blog posts and other material directed specifically at one gender, we tend to automatically assume that an individual of the intended gender wrote that material. Last month we were surprised to find out that this isn't always the case. The author of a popular blog, "Gay Girl in Damascus", supposedly written by a young lesbian living in Syria, turned out to be written by an American man living in Scotland. Many readers were outraged by this revelation; it was an automatic assumption that a blog written by an individual claiming to be a "gay girl" was written by, well, a gay girl. Turns out, the real author, Tom McMaster, is all male.

The issue of gender tends to fall by the wayside when we make certain assumptions. The ambiguity of the Internet allows us to be whoever we want to be, regardless of our intentions. Literary icons have been pulling this off for centuries, writing in voices that are not their own. Some are more believable than others, but when it comes to web content, we associate gender with credibility. We want to be sure that a blog intended for new moms is written by someone who is a mother herself. We want gender-sensitive material such as gay and lesbian issues to be addressed by appropriate writers. We feel duped when we find out that the voices we trust aren't who we thought they were. Alas, technology has found a way to flush out the imposters.

The experts at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey have developed gender-determining software that can supposedly nail imposters at their own game. By feeding the text of blog entries into the tool, they can determine the gender of the author. In fact, they tested the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog entries and determined that the author was 63.2 percent likely to be male. In this instance, detecting "gender plagiarism" is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. It's a fun game, but in essence, the voice and author really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The Stevens Institute is attempting to purpose their tool for a much more worthwhile endeavour.

The team at Stevens believe their gender-revealing software tool can be used to protect children and minors from online sexual predators. When used in the realm of social media, blogging, and chatting, this tool can help identify those who may be intent on exploiting children by revealing their true gender identity. It can add an additional measure of protection to security software by uncovering male predators posing as women and vice versa. The program is capable of making a gender judgement with as few as 50 words, proclaiming male, female or gender neutral.

But what about the rest of us? Does it really matter who writes what we read? That depends on the reader. The Internet has become our trusted source for just about everything, so, of course we want the information we find to be credible. The problem is, it isn't always. The key to successful navigation is to take everything you read with a grain of salt. Look for similar material and be your own fact-checker. Don't assume what you're reading is gospel. Blogs, Facebook posts and Tweets are always up for debate, and we can never be 100% sure of their origin. The folks at the Stevens Institute have created a groundbreaking tool, but it remains to be seen just how useful it will be.

To read more about the gender spotting tool, click here.

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