Pew: Men Dominate Photos in Facebook News Feed

Men dominate images accompanying stories posted on Facebook by major news outlets, with those images being all that most users will be basing their impression of the story on. 

That is according to a new Pew Research Center study of posts by 17 national news outlets from April 1 to June 30.

That analysis, using machine vision (algorithms that identify objects) to look at "large quantities of images,"* showed that men appeared twice as often as women (53%), with a majority of pictures showing only men and less than a quarter (22%) showing only women.

Men's faces also tended to be more prominent than women's, taking an average 10% more space than men's.

Women tended to appear more often in stories about TV, music or movies, but even in those they were not shown more often than men. 

Pew said the machine vision model it used was tested at 95% accuracy for a subset of the data it was "trained" to analyze, and 87% on a random sample of Facebook news images.

Pew called the findings "striking," but said there was no benchmark for what such a ratio should be, and said the analysis did not address whether the actual stories that went along with the pictures were similarly more focused on men than women, but also pointed out that research has found that users only clicked on about 7% of the links to the longer stories--so that photographic first impression is all that most of them see. 

Pew said it chose to study Facebook news photos because the "standardizes the presentation of news images and text across outlets," because the news story posts feature large photos with only a little text and links to the longer article, so that the photo is the main thing users see when they are looking at the news feed. 

"The study results most likely reflect the gender gap in business, politics, sports and other areas that the media covers," said Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne. "Ultimately, news editors choose which images to include and which stories they post to Facebook.” 

* 22,342 Facebook posts with photos showing identifiable human faces.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.