"The image is a girl, so the poster must be too": Understanding how visual media affects gender perception online

Open Access
Pinter, Anthony Thomas
Graduate Program:
Information Sciences and Technology
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 27, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Lynette Marie Yarger, Thesis Advisor
  • Eileen M Trauth, Committee Member
  • Steven Michael Gaddis Jr., Committee Member
  • identity
  • self-presentation
  • online spaces
  • experimental
Social media platforms that require the inclusion of visual media for full community involvement (i.e. Instagram, Tinder, etc.) are becoming increasingly popular in today’s digital society. However, we do not understand the effect that this visual media has on the impression formation processes of an online author’s audience, specifically with regards to gender. This work reports the results of an experimental simulation in which participants viewed and responded to a series of forum posts that had gendered media forms and text vignettes. Participants saw some combination of text, images, and GIFs, and were asked to respond to the forum posts as if they were members of the forum seeing the post for the first time. They then completed a post survey asking them to rate the poster on a variety of metrics, including gender. Using the results of this experimental simulation and post-survey, I analyzed how visual media impacts the impression formation of audiences. Results showed that audience members looked to the richer forms of media for contextual clues about the poster’s gender. This was particularly apparent in situations where an image was included in a post, and to a lesser extent when GIFs were present. I relate these findings to transgendered individuals as a potential way to actively garner audience support for their transition during a stressful time, and position this work in the broader context of our understanding of actor and audience interaction in digital spaces.