Racism, Trolling, and the Internet

I could post my shopping list and I’m pretty sure the thread beneath would include some variants of “go back to Africa”  Hannah Pool

While the Internet has long been regarded as the last bastion of free speech where anyone could post comments anonymously without fear, the dark side of such freedom is also apparent.   Not only do women posting online often face horrific abuse and threats, often focusing on rape or “slut shaming”, but people belonging to sexual, religious, or racial minorities typically experience abuse as well.   Bloggers and journalists such as Hannah Pool, whose quote is included above, have long shared their concerns that the negative comments they receive based on their appearance, gender, or racial background can drown out legitimate commenters.   As a result, many would-be contributors who are part of stigmatized groups are often afraid to have a voice on social media platforms such as Twitter or to start their own blogs  (which may be the intent of many of these anonymous abusers).

A new study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examines this phenomenon by focusing the negative reactions many commenters receive to their  online contributions based on race.   A team of researchers led by Rachel Sumner of Cornell University’s Department  of Human Development examined reader comments to the Room For Debate blog published on the New York Time’s website.   The Room For Debate blog is intended to allow people from different walks of life to post opinion-editorial (op-ed) essays on specific topics such as interracial marriage or health care and also allows readers to post comments on each essay.   For the purpose of their study, Sumner and her fellow researchers focused on eleven discussions of racial topics published over a one-year period.  Topics included affirmative action, lack of minorities in popular television shows, racial relations following the election of President Obama, etc.   For each discussion, two essays were randomly selected:  one by a Black author and one by a White author.   The twenty-two essays selected were also evenly divided between male and female authors.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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