Connected Racial content in social media


According to a new Pew Research Center report, black social media users are twice as likely as whites to say that the posts they see on social networking sites are about race.

A similar gap was found among blacks and whites who said they actually post content about race relations. Black social media users were twice as likely than white users to say they post about race.

Most white users (68 percent) said they avoided posting or sharing anything about race.

This study is important because it reflects the willingness to talk openly about racial issues on social media. It also might show a level of selective perception of social media content about race.

We know that many people are already using social media to find information and to get involved in social movements. Earlier, Pew studies found that Americans are using social media to get their news. Others are using social media to encourage followers to get involved with causes and community activist groups.

But social media also serves as an important outlet for connecting people who would otherwise never meet, people who share common interests, who share ideas, and talk about their communities.

Authors of the Pew Research Center report, Monica Anderson and Paul Hitlin, noted that “at times, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites can help users bring greater attention to issues through their collective voice.”

Social media should give people a voice about race, but apparently some are reluctant to speak up.

The same can’t be said about our willingness to use social media to post thoughts and ideas about politics.

For example, do a quick perusal of Facebook and Twitter and you’ll find many users, regardless of race, have opinions about the candidates for U.S. president.

People are openly engaging in debates about Trump and Clinton. However, there may be just as many people avoiding social media as a way to block out the negativity (maybe Pew researchers will study that next).

Still, when it comes to race, hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #Ferguson should be opening the door to discussions and idea sharing. There’s often a peak in conversations in the wake of a tragic event. For example, in July, social media posts spiked after the deaths of two black men at the hands of police and the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.

Beyond the 3,769 telephone interviews Pew researchers conducted with U.S. adults in early 2016, they also looked at the amount of publicly available tweets about race over a 15-month period (in 2015 and early 2016).

During that time, 995 million tweets about race were posted, or about 2.1 million tweets per day. But there are more than 500 million tweets per day, so tweets about race make up less than 1 percent.

So not only are some people reluctant to talk about race, some are simply being drowned out by the cacophony of social media voices.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at adamearn.com and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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