The issue of female scientist representations and engagement in social media is important because online social media is one of the most important and powerful agents that mediate between science and publics and especially young publics. When considering this role of social media and the relative absence of female scientists from it we sought to critically look at how the public engages with female scientists in social media as opposed to male scientists. Following a recent study analyzing comments to science YouTube videos featuring female and male scientists we ask whether there is a difference between comments submitted to female vs. male scientists on a popular science Facebook page where the participants engage with popular science texts rather than videos. We collected and analyzed 166 posts and their 10,006 respective comments, published between 2016 and 2018. Analysis demonstrated significant differences in three categories: (1) More comments to female scientists were not relevant to the topic of the post; (2) Female scientists receive more advices on how to write better, and (3) Overall, females received more positive comments than male writers. These findings are consistent with a trend in which sentiments toward women are more covert and not overtly negative.
In Israel, the status of women in academia and the sciences is similar to the situation in other OECD countries. The gender index in Israel shows that despite the fact that most of the undergraduate and graduate degree students in Israeli universities are women, less than 33% of the senior staff are women, and only 21% of the professors are women (Kertcher-Tzameret et al., 2017), specifically in the sciences, women make up 15% or less of senior academic positions in engineering, computer science, and physics faculties (data for the academic year 2014-2015)(Lerer & Avgar, 2018) .
Facebook is the most prominent social media network in Israel; in terms of the average amount of time users spend on Facebook and the percentage of users from the entire population. In 2013, 90% of Internet users in Israel used Facebook and other indicators place Facebook as the leading social media platform accessed in Israel (Social Media Stats Israel, 2020). This data makes Israel a productive arena for research on public engagement with science on Facebook.
Our field of research is Little, Big Science (LBS) – a non-profit organization for science outreach, operating the largest independent Facebook page for popular science in Hebrew (AUTHURS, 2020), with more than 139,000 followers as of August 2020.
The writers of LBS are all volunteers and all either hold an advanced degree (e.g PhD, MD) or are in the process of obtaining one. All are involved in or have experience in academic research. The article subjects are chosen by the individual writers based on their interest or from suggestions shared in a private group among writers. There are many different subjects for published posts, with varying popularity and relevance to daily life; from posts dealing with hot water boilers to post about quantum physics.
Once the posts are published, the followers and other Facebook users are encouraged to comment with remarks and questions should they have any. Facebook provides some statistical data regarding page activity. On average, there are about 150 comments per day with one short and one long article published.