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Female TEDx presenters get more polarized comments than men do

It sounds like a scenario straight out of a TED talk.

Presenters onstage during a TED talk
Women get more positive and negative comments, says a study. Men tend to get neutral responses.
Tony Anna Mingardi/Getty Images

Female TEDx and TED-Ed presenters get a greater number of polarized online responses to videos than male presenters do, says a recent study. 

Most of the comments on the videos, which tend to be geared toward more academic and educated audiences, are neutral. But women get more positive and negative comments than men, according to the study, published earlier this month in the journal Plos One.  

Meanwhile, TED-Ed's animated videos, which don't have a female or male focal point, get mostly neutral responses. 

"It was surprising that there was so much more polarity when you could see physical appearance," Royce Kimmons, an education professor at Brigham Young University and an author of the study, said in a statement. 

This could have significant implications as more learning resources become available online. 

"As online learning offerings expand, and as more and more institutions encourage academics to go online, universities need to consider how online negativity seems to disproportionately affect some academics more than others," George Veletsianos, a study co-author and education professor at Canada's Royal Roads University, said in a statement.

Historical gender norms could be a reason for the polarized comments, Kimmons said, since the women presenters tend to be in fields that've traditionally been viewed as male professions, such as science, technology, engineering and math. 

The researchers also found that positive video comments spurred additional positive commentary, and negative comments encouraged more negative commentary, regardless of the presenter's gender or the format of the presentation. 

That doesn't mean moderators should necessarily delete every negative comment. Kimmons said that could squash a potentially good conversation. Instead, he advised, there should be more individual media literacy. 

The study may be helpful for understanding online harassment, but Kimmons said there's "a lot more work that needs to be done to help us better understand people's experiences online and help us identify instances and patterns of harassment, abuse and so forth." 

Who knows, we may one day see a TEDx talk on this phenomenon.

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