Facebook is introducing more choices for gender identification

by on February 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm in Education, Science | Permalink

You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender, as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

I’m all for this development, and I’ll note one extra thing: people who write on “the paradox of choice” are unlikely to ever use this as an example.

1 Strauss February 14, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Brilliant.

2 The Other Jim February 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Well, they are getting boundless free PR from a fawning media for about twenty minutes of work, so I would have to agree.

Of course, if they actually cared about this issue, they wouldn’t use a 50-choice drop-down menu at all. They would just have a blank field you could fill in with whatever you want.

But that wouldn’t get them as much free press.

3 simplicio February 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

“They would just have a blank field you could fill in with whatever you want.”

I suspect Facebooks targeted advertising and marketing research pretty heavily on getting accurately knowing if someone is male or female. If they just left it a blank-box, a lot of people would use it for jokes and the like, and it would screw up their data.

So now they have the basic male/female pull down box, but a third “custom” choice which takes you to other options.

4 sappy February 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

I hereby announce my gender as feline chicken. Anyone who doesn’t identify me as such is a bigot.

5 Thor February 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I’m a canine feline, and you are making me hungry, which is probably illegal.

6 Tyle February 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Only if sappy doesn’t consent.

7 Marie February 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm

+1

8 derek February 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm

First Facebook, then the plumbing supply companies. Forward!

9 Odoacer February 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Slightly OT: Does anyone know how many transgender people there are in the US? I’ve only done some Google searches, but this study comes up most often:

http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/how-many-people-are-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender/

“There are also nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the US.” Does anyone have a better source?

10 Steve Sailer February 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Whatever the number is, it will be enough to justify World War T.

11 Nathan W February 15, 2014 at 6:31 am

From some cellular biology class in one of those pretty good unis, I’m pretty sure I recall somewhere in the region of 1% having some degree of both male and female genetalia. Basically, in females, that part doesn’t grow so much as in males, but in many cases it grows enough that we say that they have both male and female parts. 1% would make for about 3.5 million Americans, although presumably many/most of them have chosen to be male or female, by surgical means, according to what they saw in themselves.

12 Dan February 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I don’t think transgender means what you think it means.

13 Marie February 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm

And they keep using that word. . .

14 GiT February 15, 2014 at 9:52 pm

This sounds more like “intersex” than “trans-.” Maybe it’s been outmoded, but not by transgender or another trans- variation. AFAIK.

15 bluto February 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I am a meat popcicle.

16 Too much choice February 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm

That works out nicely for Valentine’s Day!

17 Live-Evil February 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

wow

18 Dan in Philly February 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm

And so one cultural norm is surpassed by another. America becomes a bit more post modern, I suppose.

19 Thor February 14, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I’m a bit of a cultural norman, myself.

20 JWatts February 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

“The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender, as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them”

Why? This seems like a ridiculous solution. I can’t for the life of me understand why they just wouldn’t make this a STRING(24) and be done with it. Then the user could describe themselves however they want. Now, they have to rely on whatever designations a committee at Facebook comes up with.

Sometimes I feel like bureaucrats rule the world.

21 JWatts February 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm

And I’ll point out that making the field from it’s current binary format to a STRING(24) and populating with the current values “Male” or “Female” and then letting each user change it, is a trivial operation.

Whereas, having a committee come up with whatever they found to be the “politically correct” designations and then getting feedback and then finally handing the solution over to the actual programmer probably killed a man-year of effort and let to a distinctly sub-optimal solution.

22 Evan February 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Clearly they chose the dropdown menu to stop trolls entering absolutely ludicrous designations.

23 JWatts February 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm

“Clearly they chose the dropdown menu to stop trolls entering absolutely ludicrous designations.”

It’s Facebook. There are multiple places you can enter text of any kind.

24 Urso February 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm

…unless those trolls work for facebook.

25 Jack February 14, 2014 at 11:49 pm

“Clearly they chose the dropdown menu to stop trolls entering absolutely ludicrous designations.”

Indeed. 57 genders may be ludicrous, but 56 is just right.

26 Chris S February 14, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Enumerated multiselects are much easier to code (segment into groups) than open end strings. Must maintain the quality and segmentability of the data.

The solution may be suboptimal from the point of the user, and inelegant to the coder, but it suits the needs of the data miner better.

Remember, Facebook’s business is data collection and analysis; all that fluff about friends and likes is just the means.

27 Dude February 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm

This. +1

28 Sigivald February 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

1) Shorter and easier to store; remember Facebook has hundreds of millions of user records, in multiple, multiple copies.

2) There isn’t that much real-world variance in the pronouns that those three won’t address*, and remember there are also associated possessives that FB doesn’t want to have to store in parallel. His/Hers/Theirs is just part of English, and can be inferred from him/her/them.

3) It prevents stupid typos or deliberate abuse (and “friends” playing around with your account and setting your pronoun to, oh, “fart-face”).

(* Some people seem to want a “zir” or something. All five of them can suck it up and use them/their.)

29 Chris S February 14, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Data storage is not the issue. Wait a month and the extra storage will materialize for less than the cost of trying to write code this way or that.

#3 is closer as that introduces all sorts of data quality issues.

30 Dan Weber February 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Yeah, if Facebook couldn’t handle an extra 23 bytes per person, they would have shut down long ago.

31 JWatts February 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

“1) Shorter and easier to store; remember Facebook has hundreds of millions of user records, in multiple, multiple copies. ”

LOL, a 24 character string field per user isn’t going to have any significant effect on the data storage of Facebook.

“3) It prevents stupid typos or deliberate abuse (and “friends” playing around with your account and setting your pronoun to, oh, “fart-face”). ”

In other words, a PC committee is going to ensure that only “acceptable” entries are made. And I’ll point out again, that someone can make all kinds of entries to various text fields on a profile already.

32 Doug February 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

“LOL, a 24 character string field per user isn’t going to have any significant effect on the data storage of Facebook.”

While, I don’t think it’s a technical issue it’s not quite as simple as you’re making it out to be. Storing data isn’t the problem, I/O access is the problem. Facebook stores a lot of data, but most of it is sparsely accessed and can be reasonably cached. For example a picture is uploaded, but someone only views it once when loading the page. And even then new pictures are viewed a lot more than the the bulk of pictures, so only a tiny subset can be cached higher in the memory hierarchy.

There are a small number of bytes that make up fundamental user attributes: name, gender, age, geographic location, etc. But these bytes are accessed way way more than the bulk of bytes that Facebook stores (mainly media). These bytes are touched dozens of times by tons of different algorithms (customize the page, customize the ads, link people they might know, etc.). So there’s a lot more complexity to it than just adding extra storage.

33 Chris S February 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Are you listening?
Plas—

No wait. Moore’s Law. That’s it. Oops, two words, sorry.

34 Dan Weber February 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Facebook is written in freaking PHP. They don’t freak out about performance.

35 John S February 15, 2014 at 4:19 am

Can’t reply to Dan Weber, so I’m replying here.

> Facebook is written in freaking PHP. They don’t freak out about performance.

They sure wasted a lot of time developing Cassandra and HipHop, then.

36 Peter Schaeffer February 15, 2014 at 11:14 pm

DW,

“Facebook is written in freaking PHP. They don’t freak out about performance.”

+1

JS,

“They sure wasted a lot of time developing Cassandra and HipHop, then.”

Hadoop, not HipHop.

PHP shows that they don’t care (much) about CPU utilization. Cassandra and Hadoop show that they do care about Big Data analytics. No contradiction..

37 Joe Smith February 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm

This is probably being done so they can better target their advertising and increase revenues.

They don’t seem to have included “creepy old guy” so I’m feeling excluded.

38 Ricardo February 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I hadn’t thought of that, but of course you’re right.

39 JWatts February 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Yes, but then why 50 entries? Male, Female and Other, probably cover every significant advertising group.

Let’s face it the separate markets among the other 48 entries are trivial compared to the individual Male or Female grouping.

40 Maurice de Sully February 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Why 50 entries? Presumably because Facebook’s customers- not its users- wanted the data broken out that way.

41 Brandon Berg February 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm

I’m guessing that people who choose “cisgender male” are very different from people who choose “male,” probably in ways relevant to marketing.

42 Jack February 14, 2014 at 11:51 pm

My gender is AMERICAN.

Yes, in all caps.

If you disagree you’re a bigot.

43 Sigivald February 14, 2014 at 3:47 pm

people who write on “the paradox of choice” are unlikely to ever use this as an example.

True, because in practice it’s not actually much of a choice.

I mean, there’s options, but it’s picking the one that fits what you are/identify as, not a set of things you get to choose “to be”…

44 Emily February 14, 2014 at 3:54 pm

The different between “gender fluid” and “gender variant” is just something you are, not something you’re choosing?
If “gender variant” were not an option, the people who will pick that would have felt like what they were wasn’t on the list?

45 Dan February 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Yes, I think this is exactly the point. The “paradox of choice” problem occurs when you have many options but you’re not sure which one is correct, or there are several options that are only marginally distinguishable from each other. For gender, most people have a very clear idea of what their answer would be. And yes, if it’s not on the list, they feel excluded. The lack of options forces them to pick an imperfect answer.

46 AIG February 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I thought the whole point of 50 categories was because gender is supposedly a “social construct”. A social construct, is hence a choice we make. I don’t think “nature” created 50 genders in humans. At least, last time I checked.

47 Dan February 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Please try to get out more. It’s a crazy world. (And don’t confuse sex, i.e. the combination of X and Y chromosomes you posses and the external genitalia they code for, with gender.)

48 James February 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm

I’m still not going to post anymore on Facebook.

49 Chris S February 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

In the future, Facebook posts YOU.

50 Evan February 14, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I just went to my facebook profile and tried to change my gender – still only two options, Male and Female…

51 Thor February 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Perhaps it considers you a binary bigot?

52 Chris S February 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

@Evan your Facebook locale must be set to English(US)

53 Enrique February 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

And yet … there is still only one level of “friend” !!!

54 Steve Sailer February 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

With victory in World War G, the offensives are just starting up for World War T.

55 Z February 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

World War B (Bronies)
World War S (Starseeds)
World War O (Otherkins)
World War F (Furries)
World War C (Cosplay)
World War H (headmates)

I’m sure there are 18 more war fronts, but I’ve exhausted my knowledge of the weirdo space.

56 Timothy February 15, 2014 at 2:04 am

The thing about this war is, shit, I don’t even want to fight. You want to get whatever surgeries and hormones, grow your hair long or cut it short, call yourself Sue or Jim instead of Sam or Jane, cool. As far as I am concerned if it is that important for you to be a girl, fine. I will call you he, she, or they, whatevs. If you could hold some sort of conference and decide on one of the co/zie/ey sets, for good, I would get on board with that too.

But they pick a goddamn fight any way they can. Insist everyone magically know which set of uniquely invented pronouns they made up. I as a straight male have no upset that the small number of cis lesbians in the world have no interest in my dick – nor do many straight women, and the lesbians can be fun to hang out with – but the trans are very upset that lesbians don’t like dick.

The sad part is I think 25-50% of them have their heads on straight besides the whole gender thing but they’re embarrassed and shouted down by the cult.

57 John Mansfield February 14, 2014 at 5:04 pm

It would be a fun party game to see who can come up with the most genders that match the Facebook categories. I doubt anyone could come up with more than a dozen matches.

58 leftist conservative February 14, 2014 at 10:20 pm

“I’m all for this development,”

Well, of course you are. Piling on bandwagon identity politics trends pushed by CorpGovMedia is what gets a blogger noticed.

59 tyler cowen February 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Yes, that’s my whole gameplan.

60 leftist conservative February 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

it’s worked so far…

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