BALTIMORE – Next time you chat online, think twice about your screen name.
A new study finds that using a female screen name like Cathy, Melissa or Stephanie is more likely to elicit threatening and sexually explicit messages.
In the study, automated chat-bots and human researchers logged on to chat rooms under female, male and ambiguous screen names, such as Nightwolf, Orgoth and Stargazer.
Bots using female names averaged 100 malicious messages a day, compared with about four for those using male names and about 25 for those with ambiguous names. Researchers logging on themselves produced similar results.
Michel Cukier, the study's author and a professor at the University of Maryland's Center for Risk and Reliability, said the findings show the risks of placing personal information on the Internet, "even disclosing just your first name."
Cukier said the difficulty of writing computer programs, or scripts, that can tell the difference between males and females online shows the menacing messages were not generated automatically.
"These are real users who seem to look for female names," Cukier said.
The results are to be published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers' International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks, which will be held in June.
Parry Aftab, an online-safety experrt, said she was not surprised.
"It's sad that we have to say to men and women, but especially women, 'Don't give away too much information,' and that includes your gender,'" she said. "There's no reason for people to have to know that you're a woman."