Gender, race, age, and power in online discussions, chapter n

I summarized the Economist’s debate on social networks in education on the Tales from the Net blog, but I wanted to focus more on the race and gender aspects here on Liminal States. To start with, check out the participants and their roles. Superficially (and to the extent we can tell from the pictures and pronouns people use), it seems gender balanced: three male, four female. Look a little more closely though:

  1. the “speakers”, presenting the arguments for and against, are both male.
  2. the “moderator” (who frames the issue, provides commentary on both speakers’ arguments, and “will peruse all correspondence from the floor and raise points that are of particular interest or merit with the two speakers”) is also male.
  3. the women are all “guest participants”

Marginalized much?

Things are even more extreme in the “age” dimension — in a comment in the debate, I asked whether there were plans to involve any current or recent students as guest participants. And although it’s much harder to infer reliably from photos and language, there appears to be even more extreme marginalization in the race dimension … it’s a mighty white-looking bunch of folks they’ve got.

One of the thing that makes this lack of diversity more acute is the Economist’s “Oxford 2.0” debate rules:

In our reconception, the proposition and the opposition are each represented by individual speakers—experts in their fields chosen by The Economist‘s staff to match the proposition at hand.

Because, after all, we wouldn’t want those (nudge-nudge) other perspectives to get equal standings with the guys hand-picked by The Economist’s staff.