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Why Did So Few Women Make It on to the Twitter 100? And Does It Matter?

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Amid all the complaining and bragging about who was ranked higher than who when it was published last week, some women on Twitter like Nat Guest pointed out that "only one woman made it into the top 20 at all."

That honour went to campaigner and wife of former prime minister Gordon Brown, Sarah Brown, who came second, after Virgin boss Richard Branson.

The Independent's Laura Davis addressed the fact that Brown was in fact the only woman in the top 25 - and there were only 18 women who made it onto the list at all.

Davis points to Guardian research that shows public life is dominated by men and that they write 78% of all newspaper articles.

In the absence of any research into Twitter use, Davis looked at her own list of followers. Looking at those who retweeted her and were most supportive, she suggested that women were not only less likely to follow other women, but less willing to support each other.

To this, novelist Jo Jo Moyes responded on Twitter: "I disagree with pretty much this entire article."

Other critics looked at the process of selecting the 'titans' of Twitter, suggesting that it wasn't entirely true to say, as Davis did, that the selection was not "opinion based."

Describing the process, the Independent's Ian Burrell, the Independent's media editor, writes that it was "compiled with the help of the social media monitoring group, PeerIndex, with additional input from a panel of experts."

On the five-strong expert panel was Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex; Elizabeth Varley, CEO of TechHub; Ian Burrell; Rhodri Marsden, Independent technology columnist; and Jack Riley, head of digital audience and content development for the Independent, i, and the Evening Standard.

This prompted Helen Lewis of the New Statesman to tweet; "um, the Independent Twitter 100 list *was* opinion-based - the raw peer index scores were 'filtered' by a panel of men."

The list overall is dominated by celebrities and sporting figures and, perhaps not surprisingly women dominated the fashion list. But what does it say that only Louise Mensch made it onto the politics list?

Journalists Laura Kuenssberg, India Knight and Laurie Penny who made it onto the list and with businesswoman Lucy Marcus and the entrepreneur Hermione Way, were possibly the only ones whose influence was because of their expertise and opinions.

In many ways the issue of influence on Twitter mirrors the debate in newspapers and broadcasting about women as experts. A campaign was launched recently to encourage broadcasters to aim for at least 30 per cent of female experts on the programme - and to break away from the trend of having only women as case studies or victims.

Lis Howells of City University joined with Broadcast magazine to launch the campaign after she realised that she went for more than 20 minutes listening to the Today programme before hearing the voice of a woman.

Howells argues that women should be prepared to stick their neck out and agree to take part in radio and TV programmes and speak as experts when they are asked.

"I think it's to do with power, and power is seen to be a male preserve, unless you are a very eminent politician," said Howells. "Men appear to find it easier to speak for everybody and it's very rare that women speak on generic subjects."

While the Twitter 100 list doesn't only measure expertise, it does demonstrate that few women are considered authoritative on subjects outside of traditional areas. Although important, they are often considered 'niche' and were not represented on the Twitter list.

But what of the subjects that men dominate, such as economics and politics? Does it matter that in these areas women have so little influence?

The writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex of the difficulty women face in assuming an authoritative position in the world - of viewing the universe "as one's own".

She encouraged women to develop a philosophical and ethical "art of living" that would inspire and encourage other women to move from the position of the "other".

Dialogue and writing were important tools for women if they were to develop a new place in relation to the world, she argued. If she was writing now, would she have included Tweeting?

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