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Strange Fruit: What Does Facebook Think Your Gender Is?

In 2014, Facebook introduced new gender options users could ascribe to themselves. Where before you had to select male or female, you could suddenly be agender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, non-binary, transgender, or nearly 60 others. The move was hailed as progressive, and folks patted the social network on the back.

But under the surface of the user interface, the story was different.

We see Facebook as a place to keep up with friends, argue with relatives and laugh at memes (and follow your favorite public radio show). But in reality, Facebook is in the business of data collection -- learning all they can about their users, and selling the data to marketers.

And in Facebook's data-gathering underbelly in 2014... nothing changed. You might have selected agender on your public profile, but Facebook's algorithm continued to identify you as male or female, based on your posting habits and other profile information.

Why did they do this? And, since it's hidden, does it matter?

Dr. Rena Bivens is an assistant professor of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University in Ottowa, Canada. She's been studying the way Facebook and other social networks handle gender, and she joins us this week to share what she's learned.

And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we address the recent comments of American Idol finalist La'Porsha Ranae, who, when asked about anti-LGBT laws in her home state of Mississippi, said, "I am one of the people who don’t really agree with that lifestyle."

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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