Internet chat room users with female names are 25 times more likely to receive threatening and sexually-explicit private messages than those armed with male or ambiguous monikers, a university study reported Tuesday.
According to research conducted by a University of Maryland professor and one of his computer engineering students, female usernames in IRC (Internet Rely Chat) rooms received an average of 163 malicious private messages each day, while male and ambiguous usernames were targeted by an average of just 4 and 25 daily messages, respectively.
"Some messages to female usernames were innocuous, while others were sexually explicit or threatening," said sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer in a statement.
An example of one of the tamer messages received in the study: "[10:43] [DanMan] Do u need money? Looking for someone who does not mind providing personal intimate services. $150/hr. Serious offer. 178 74 male 29 here. Interested pls intro?)."
Meyer and assistant professor Michel Cukier created bots that simulated users for one part of the study, then posed as users with female and male names in a second stage.
Human users received more messages each day than did the bots -- 163 versus 100 for female names, 27 versus 4 for male names -- but that part of the study also showed "females" received significantly more files and links from other chat room participants.
But while Cukier and Meyer used bots, they're pretty sure the other end of the chat was being handled by a person, not a program.
"The extra attention the female usernames received and the nature of the messages indicate that male, human users specifically targeted female users," Cukier said in rejecting the idea that simulated users are behind the glut of mean-mouthed conversation.
He recommended that people steer away from gender-based usernames to avoid messages like DanMan's.
"Parents should consider alerting their children to these risks, and advising young people to create gender-free or ambiguous usernames," said Cukier. "Kids can still exercise plenty of creativity and self-expression without divulging their gender."