Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


(PHOTO: AMAZE646/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: AMAZE646/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Spreading Racism via Facebook

• March 29, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: AMAZE646/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Heavy Facebook users are more likely than those who log on occasionally to react positively to racist remarks.

Is Facebook a particularly powerful medium to spread racist messages? That’s the disturbing implication of a newly published study.

“Frequent users are particularly disposed to be influenced by negative racial messages,” psychologists Shannon Rauch and Kimberley Schanz write in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

They argue these heavy users log onto the site in search of social inclusion rather than information—and as such, they’re prone to express agreement with the material they see without thinking about it too deeply. This combination of “a need to connect and an ethos of shallow processing” creates an atmosphere conducive to the spread of racist thoughts.

Rauch and Schanz describe a study featuring 623 Internet users, nearly 95 percent of whom had a current Facebook account. They were asked how often they checked the site, reporting their typical usage on an eight-point scale from “less than once a week” to “20 or more times per day.”

They then read one of three versions of a Facebook Notes Page, which was purportedly written by a 26-year-old white male named Jack Brown.

One version contained what the researchers describe as a “superiority message,” a post in which Jack “contrasted the behaviors of black and white individuals, only to find consistent superiority of the whites.” The second contained a “victim message,” a post in which Jack argues that “whites are the most oppressed racial group in America.” The third contained an “egalitarian message,” a post in which Jack gives examples of anti-black racism he has witnessed.

The study participants were asked, among other things, “how much they agreed with the message,” “how accurate they found it,” “how much they liked the writer,” and how likely they were to either share the post with others or argue against it.

The researchers found more-frequent Facebook users did not differ from the others in their reaction to the egalitarian message. However, they “were more positive toward the messages with racist content—particularly the superiority message,” they write.

Why would this be? “Frequent Facebook users are likely susceptible to negative persuasive messages because they engage in less critical processing, either because of their online experiences or personality traits,” Rauch and Schanz write. “Agreement and positive attitudes are driven by a need to belong and connect with others.”

They note that, compared to those who use the site primarily for entertainment or “connecting with others,” the minority of Facebook users who report they use the site to find information and express their opinions were more likely to reject the racist messages. This group “appeared to discriminate between messages” to a far greater degree than the others.

“This is a sobering finding, given that Facebook use has become increasingly commonplace, and … information-seeking is not a primary motivation of most Facebook users,” Rauch and Schanz conclude.

“Facebook clearly has diverse content,” they note, “which can include persuasive messages of a sort that warrant critical thinking and some depth of processing.”

But critical thinking is often absent when people are motivated by the desire to be accepted, or to be entertained. As a result, this study suggests, some pretty disturbing stuff is being received with uncritical acceptance.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.