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Research confirms social media's deadly effects on youth of color

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Terri Dee

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(Indiana New Service) Social media platforms are used by practically everyone, but most widely by teens. One study pinpoints a link between online racism and higher rates of stress and suicide among Black youth, ages 10 to 17. 

Suicide is already the second-leading cause of death among Indiana teens, so the new findings are troubling. 

Online racism includes jokes and misinformation - but also censorship, or the removal of content posted by Black users. 

Clinical Psychologist and Professor at Tennessee State University Raquel Martin explained that social media is often a representation of what's happening in everyday life.

"Having social media provides you with an opportunity to see how people that look like you are being treated in their own city and state and country," said Martin, "and acknowledging the fact that that is not often good."

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The study reveals Black teens with repeated exposure to racist posts internalize the content as threats, resulting in trauma-like symptoms and emotional distress. 

The 'Social Media Victims Law Center' asserts that online anonymity and beliefs in digital freedom of speech are seen as justifications by those who post white-supremacy ideology.

Another study finds young people experience an average of five posts that include racial discrimination per day. 

Teens may see the content as teasing, not racial harassment, allowing cyberbullying to thrive. Martin said the apps commonly used by teens could do more to rein in the negative content.

"I am not naive enough to think that individuals in the social media realm aren't aware of this," said Martin. "They're very much aware of it. But I also don't think they very much care. A lot of the time the things they care about are losing money."

The Marion County Commission on Youth says almost 15% of Hoosier youth of color who died did so by suicide in 2020. 

Recommendations to counter harmful online content include community, faith-based, and mentoring programs - and to address the stigma in the Black community of seeking therapy and connect teens to mental health resources geared toward youth. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, don't hesitate to contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, at 988.