Social Update: Social Media and Race Relations

Peathegee Inc

Peathegee Inc

Social media has changed the landscape in which we communicate information. Simply put, information is instant and available to a diverse audience with regards to age, race, and opinion. Among Millennials, some of the major media platforms where ideas and news are exchanged include Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, WeChat, Instagram, and Facebook. While most of these services boast user numbers in the hundreds of millions, Facebook dominates—approximately 1.6 billion users actively engage each month. Still, Twitter and Facebook have emerged at the forefront of a recent Pew Research Center survey in which they looked at the impact of social media on race relations.

When it comes to social media, the numbers tell an interesting story. Researchers have observed that while discussions about race relations take place within groups, the conversation between groups may be lacking. As a result, social media may be a tool to mend the gap. According to a recent Pew Research Center Survey, the degree to which information on race is shared on social media between Whites, Blacks, and Latinos differs dramatically—Blacks are twice as likely to post content related to race on Twitter than Latinos, and eight times more likely than Whites. Furthermore, Black social media users are much more likely than Whites to see posts about race. This is not surprising, given that the Twitter platform makes it easy to locate content targeted for specific groups. In other words, Latinos can specifically receive content that addresses Latino issues.

Furthermore, media sources focused on race relations have emerged in recent years contemporaneously with the surge in popularity of social media platforms. Some examples include @LatinoUSA (focused on Latino content) and @BLKPublicMedia (focused on Black content) along with the panoply of race related hashtags. It would be interesting to see to what end racial groups engage in content not targeted to their own race and whether this trend changes with time to demonstrate an improvement or decline in race relations with regards to social media. Unfortunately, as it stands, Whites lag behind Latinos and Blacks with regards to posting on issues related to race. Roughly three in ten Blacks post about race, one in five Latinos, and less than one in ten Whites. Fortunately, our ability to track information in this manner may improve our ability in the future to bridge the gap in race relations.

Data science is an emerging tool that will undoubtedly help mend race relations in the United States, given its powerful ability to glean trends out of a sea of information. For example, using analytical software (see content analysis), researchers are now able to contextualize the content posted on social media. In this manner, Pew Research Center researchers were able to segregate tweets that first related to race and also contained hashtags that pertained to race. This allowed researchers to identify trends in usage during historic dates of the last year that launched racial issues to the forefront of media coverage. For example, after the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., there were approximately 4.3 million tweets posted the day after relating to race. This trend is consistent for most events, and experts suggest that this demonstrates the users' tendency to reflect on an event and then engage in conversation on social media the following day. This window may be an opportunity for political leaders and activists alike to craft a constructive narrative in the future, than those narratives that have led to violence in the past. As I alluded to previously, information content is more organized or streamlined on social media sites so much so that users can effectively synthesize droves of information in short order, and it will be up to the leaders in the United States to take to social media to mediate the conversation.