Would Facebook Users include their Personal Pronouns in Posts?

Background

We often make assumptions about people based on their appearance. For example, we may see an image of someone with short hair and assume they are a man and refer to them using he/him/his pronouns. However, some people use pronouns that are different from what we expect. They may even use pronouns that we are unfamiliar with such as zie/zim/zis. To be more inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming folks, many people have begun including the pronouns in their email signatures, online profiles, and when they introduce themselves to new people. 

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to signal one’s pronouns to others on Facebook. This means that there are times when people may be accidentally misgendered by other users, particularly strangers. This study examines users’ preferences for including personal pronouns in Facebook posts.

Process

I began this project by brainstorming ways to signal one’s gender and/or personal pronouns on Facebook. To me, it seemed like the quickest solution would be to include a user’s pronouns next to their name on Facebook posts. This would allow anyone who views that post to engage with the post in a gender-affirming way.

I drew a few sketches and then made a prototype by taking a screenshot of one of my recent Facebook posts and adding pronouns next to my name.

Preference Testing

After I made a mockup of my proposed gender-inclusive Facebook post design, I created a survey short survey with Google Forms. The survey tested Facebook users’ perceptions of two images: (A) a control image of the current format of Facebook posts and (B) the proposed new format including personal pronouns. I deployed the survey using convenience sampling. First, I shared the link to the survey on my personal Facebook page. Then, I shared the link with friends who I know are transgender or gender non-conforming. In total, 29 people completed the survey in about 48 hours.

I exported the data as a CSV file from Google Forms. I used excel to clean and recode the data, and I conducted my analysis in Stata (which was probably overkill).

Key Findings 

  • 82% of participants stated that the new design is inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming people, compared to only 20% of participants who offered the same assessment of the current design.
  • 86% of participants stated the new design would allow them to confidently interact with other users in a gender-affirming way, compared to just 10% of participants who made the same assessment of the current design.
  • All participants indicated that they would include their personal pronouns in Facebook posts if the feature was available.

Comments on the Proposed Design

Participants offered the following comments on the proposed design:

  • “It is good that the feature allows the user to add multiple sets of pronouns. It would also be good if the person’s pronouns can be changed with ease.”
  • “Including pronouns is an incredibly simple yet profound method of inclusion. It should *already* be part of the design.”
  • “Be more inclusive.”

Recommendations

Participants clearly preferred the new design. Participants indicated that the proposed design is more inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Additionally, participants indicated that the new design would allow them to interact with other users in a gender-affirming way. As one participant noted, “Including pronouns is an incredibly simple, yet profound method of inclusion. It should already be part of the design.”

Based on this study it is recommended that Facebook enable users to include their personal pronouns in Facebook posts. 

That being said, this study is limited by a small sample size. Facebook should continue to research user preferences related to including personal pronouns in posts, especially in regards to how and when users would like to disclose their pronouns to other users. Facebook should work with transgender and gender non-conforming users to develop a solution that is inclusive as well as informed by the lived experiences of transgender people.

Want to know more?

I completed this project as part of the UX Research at Scale course offered by the University of Michigan via Coursera. Read my full report here.