Linguistic Bias in Collaboratively Produced Biographies: Crowdsourcing Social Stereotypes?
Keywords:Linguistic bias, social media
Language is the primary medium through which stereotypes are conveyed. Even when we avoid using derogatory language, there are many subtle ways in which stereotypes are created and reinforced, and they often go unnoticed. Linguistic bias, the systematic asymmetry in language patterns as a function of the social group of the persons described, may play a key role. We ground our study in the social psychology literature on linguistic biases, and consider two ways in which biases might manifest: through the use of more abstract versus concrete language, and subjective words. We analyze biographies of African American and Caucasian actors at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), hypothesizing that language patterns vary as a function of race and gender. We find that both attributes are correlated to the use of abstract, subjective language. Theory predicts that we describe people and scenes that are expected, as well as positive aspects of our in-group members, with more abstract language. Indeed, white actors are described with more abstract, subjective language at IMDb, as compared to other social groups. Abstract language is powerful because it implies stability over time; studies have shown that people have better impressions of others described in abstract terms. Therefore, the widespread prevalence of linguistic biases in social media stands to reinforce social stereotypes. Further work should consider the technical and social characteristics of the collaborative writing process that lead to an increase or decrease in linguistic biases.