White People More Likely to Stand Up to Racism on Social Media When Setting Social Norms

A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Santa Barbara examined how White people respond when encountering racist posts on social media and how likely they were to challenge hate speech online.

The research team presented a sample of 1,350 people with a hypothetical situation in which they came across a racist post online, either by a friend, family member, acquaintance, or stranger. The participants were asked how likely they would be to challenge the author based on two different motivations: changing the author’s viewpoint versus setting social norms by stating the author’s content was discriminatory.

When examining the results from the 719 White respondents, the researchers found they were more likely to challenge a racist post if the goal was to set social norms. They also found White respondents were more likely to speak up if the author was a friend or family member.

Stewart Coles, study author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, believes that intervening and standing up to discrimination online is crucial to combating structural racism and acts of racial violence.

When encouraging White people to address racism they encounter online, “[f]raming the confrontation goal as norm-setting may spur white social media users to step up rather than stand by,” said Dr. Coles. “This may change the social power dynamics online, instead of trying to convince racist users to behave better out of the goodness of their own hearts.”

Dr. Coles is an assistant professor in the department of communication at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on how people develop their understanding of social issues related to identity. He received a bachelor’s degree in digital media from Drexel University in Philadelphia, a master’s degree in mass communication and media studies from San Diego State University, and a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Michigan.

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