Researchers at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work found that exposure to social media discrimination is associated with higher symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly among young Hispanic males.
“Surprisingly, there is a lot of research on cyberbullying and social media, but there really wasn’t an in-depth study examining how exposure to ethnic discrimination on social media affects mental health,” said Miguel Ángel Cano, associate professor. in the Department of Epidemiology at Stempel College.
The study, recently published in Journal of Clinical Psychology– found that after exposure to social media posts such as photos, memes or videos that include ethnic discrimination, users experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety, even after checking their overall self-esteem. This was particularly felt by minorities. According to a Pew Research Center study, 81% of Hispanics reported that ethnic discrimination is a significant social problem in the United States.
“When participants were exposed to ethnic discrimination on social media directly or indirectly on a friend’s social media page, it was found to have negative effects on mental health,” Cano explained. “A viral video or meme may not always be directed at you, but when you see someone publicly discussing your social or ethnic group in a negative or derogatory way, sadly it can have a negative impact on mental health.”
Furthermore, the study found that greater discrimination on social media was only associated with higher symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety among men, but not women.
“Men may be more affected by ethnic discrimination on social media because they are likely to be exposed to more egregious forms of racist / discriminatory content that specifically portray men,” Cano said. “As a result, this can have a stronger or more lasting impact, and it can also threaten their concept of masculinity and threaten their perceived social status and power.”
Previous studies have shown that young adults experience higher symptoms of depression and anxiety than adolescents and other adult age groups. When considering the high use of social media in this age group, especially Hispanics, discrimination on social media can be a sociocultural and developmental factor that exacerbates the risk of developing poor mental health.
The researchers determined that further studies on the topic were needed to develop culturally appropriate and evidence-based interventions.
This study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Miguel Angel Cano, associate professor in Stempel College’s Department of Epidemiology