Social Media and Gender Identity

Gender identity is an increasingly discussed social topic and one in which the media plays a large role.  On Thursday, Facebook updated its gender section and it now allows users to customize their gender, going beyond the drop down list of over fifty options that previously existed. This is a positive step for Facebook, as I believe users should be able to define themselves however they wish. Looking into Facebook’s gender definitions a bit more, I discovered that it was not until early 2014 that Facebook offered more gender definitions than simply male and female. I became curious as to why it took Facebook so long to expand these definitions, as it seems advantageous for the social platform to do so.

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Of the 1.23 billion monthly Facebook users, there is surely a sizable percentage who would like the freedom to define their own gender identity. The constraints that Facebook previously put on that ability would likely reduce user experience, something that Facebook is constantly trying to enhance. Additionally, Facebook collects massive amount of personal data, including gender. Giving users the ability to define their own gender only makes that demographic data more specific for Facebook’s targeting and user experience purposes.

Even though I’m guessing Facebook’s motives for allowing customized gender identity selfishly surround collecting more specific user data, I think having the option will both enhance user experience and have a larger positive impact. Other social platforms like Google+ have also recently allowed for customizable gender identity.  I hope that these positive steps on social media will not only increase inclusiveness, but also education, about the various ways that people choose to define their gender.

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