Researchers at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work have found that exposure to social media discrimination is associated with higher symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly among male Hispanic young adults.
“Surprisingly, there is a lot of research about cyberbullying and social media but there really wasn’t a thorough study that looked at how exposure to ethnic discrimination on social media impacts mental health,” said Miguel Ángel Cano, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Stempel College.
The study—recently published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology— found that, upon exposure to social media posts such as photos, memes or videos that include ethnic discrimination, users felt higher levels of depression and anxiety, even after controlling for overall self-esteem. This was especially felt by minorities. According to a Pew Research Center study, 81 percent 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 vicariously on a friend’s social media page, it was found to have adverse effects on mental health,” Cano explained. “A viral video or meme may not always be directed at you, but when you see someone publicly discuss your social or ethnic group in a negative or derogatory way, it, unfortunately, can have a negative impact on mental health.”
In addition, the study found that higher social media discrimination was only associated with higher symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety among men, but not women.
“Men may be more affected by ethnic discrimination in social media because it is likely that they are exposed to more egregious forms of racist/discriminatory content that specifically depicts men,” Cano said. “Consequently, this may have a stronger or longer-lasting impact, and it may 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 when compared to adolescents and other adult age groups. When considering the high usage of social media among this age group, especially Hispanics, social media discrimination may be a sociocultural and developmental factor that compounds the risk of developing poor mental health.
The researchers determined that more studies on the topic were needed to develop culturally appropriate, evidence-based interventions.
This study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Miguel Ángel Cano, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Stempel College