Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Stunning research.

A paper by Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier, "Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels," in Proc. International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN06), is thought-provoking, and to me, stunning. Their Experiment 2 studied the impact of (perceived) user gender on the attack threat.

They connected silent bots to various chat rooms, differing only in whether their screen name was feminine (Cathy, Elyse, Irene, Melissa, Stephanie), masculine (Andy, Brad, Dan, Gregg, Kevin), or ambiguous (Nightwolf, Orgoth, Redwings, Stargazer), and recorded the malicious messages each received.
The female bots received on average 100 malicious private messages a day, exceeding by far the totals of any of the other bots, with the other attack types being roughly equal. It is interesting to note that the bots with ambiguous names received significantly more malicious private messages (on average 25) than the male bots (on average 3.7), but less than the average between the male and female bots (which is around 52). This experiment shows that the user gender has a significant impact on one component of the attack threat (i.e., the number of malicious private messages received for which the female bots received more than 25 times more private messages than the male bots and 4 more times than the bots with an ambiguous name).
If this hostility is anywhere near the typical Internet experience, is it any wonder that computing and IT are increasingly losing the women?

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Comment by Anonymous Meg:

This isn't even a mild surprise. I put a challenge up on my LiveJournal


that anyone who didn't believe sexism is rampans should log onto IRC with a female handle for 10 hours.

Not comments, and likely no takers.

5:33 PM  
Comment by Anonymous Meg:

I am actually glad you made this post. There are a *lot* of people who need to read it.

A note: many women consider unsolicited propositions or innuendo to be threatening, so there is some leeway as to what might be counted as such.

3:57 AM  
Comment by Anonymous Elle:

Wish I could be surprised either.

My parents are both IT professionals. When they trained in the UK in the 70s, there were four women in their undergraduate/Honours course.

I have friends in the Comp Sci Honours program at my local university. Out of about 40 honours students, none of them are female. And this is at a university with more females than males in overall enrolment figures.

From 4 to 0, in a field that has hugely expanded in the past thirty to forty years? Something has gone seriously wrong here.

7:47 AM  
Comment by Anonymous MWT:

Yep. If the last letter of your screen name is "a", you're practically asking to get propositioned by random cyberdorks and bot-selected to receive malware files via DCC.

This is not to say that all of IRC is bad - there are good, female-friendly communities floating around too. It just probably takes a lot to outweigh the random visitors who are always coming and going from non-secret channels.

Occasionally it can be fun to mess with the idiots, usually in the form of returning their affections with heavy-duty BDSM equipment. Also, nothing makes them leave faster than pretending to be a horny gay (or a channel filled with horny gays).

2:38 AM  
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous:

OK, I'm a guy, but: I'd consider MWT's "mess with the idiots" as the basic defense tactic against such casual abuse. If you squick them bad enough, they'll go away, and maybe lose a bit of their enthusiasm for the game. Bonus points for verbal "castrations".

5:03 AM  

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