Study Shows Black Teens Use Social Media Differently Than Whites

New research study reveals race is a factor among teen choices on social-media networks.

Photo by Shutterstock

By Manuel McDonnell-Smith


Photo by Shutterstock

In spite of the recent announcements of new technologies from the likes of Apple, Sony and Nintendo, a new study shows that teen selection of social media is frequently becoming a Black or white choice.

The report, "Teens, Social Media, and Privacy," recently released by Pew's Internet & American Life Project, broadly found that youth of all backgrounds are increasingly engaging in social-media activities, and they are sharing more personal information on their digital profiles than ever before. However, when the teen responses are broken down into demographics, some surprising trends emerge, including:

African-American teens are less likely to disclose their real names on their social-media profiles (95 percent of white social-media-using teens do this versus 77 percent of African-American teens).

"I've found this to be true," says Jasmine Bullock, Coordinator for Youth Programs at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where she works with diverse populations of teens among three programs. "A lot of it has to do with image, and what they want people to perceive of them in social media," Bullock explained. However, she also says students could be using fake identities to "cover things up" from parents, teachers and other authority figures who may be monitoring their activity on social-media platforms.

White teens are less likely to be social friends with celebrities, athletes or musicians than Blacks. (48 percent of black social-media-using teens report celebrity friends while only 25 percent of white ones do).

"African-American youth are more connected to pop culture," explains Najah Goldstein, freelance entertainment writer for Radio One. "Look at who they emulate—Beyoncé, Rihanna and others." Plus, she explains it's a big deal and a "cool" thing among teens to have a celebrity "friend" or to have a celebrity retweet a message they've sent to them.

Twitter is the preferred social network of African-American teens compared to white teens (39 percent of African-American teens reported using Twitter while only 23 percent of white teens preferred it).

Goldstein attributes the preference for Twitter among African-American teens to language. "With Twitter, they don't have to say as much," referring to Twitter's 140-character limit. Bullock offers a more interesting insight, saying it's probably just an emerging preference among all teens "who want to be using the latest thing." In fact, during focus groups conducted by Pew researchers, teens expressed "waning enthusiasm for Facebook," citing the increasing number of adults on the site and being "drained by the drama" they say occurs daily on the site—although the teens did also indicate that they felt the need to stay on Facebook in order not to "miss out."

African-American teens are more likely to post fake information to their profiles than whites (39 percent of African-American teens report doing this compared with 21 percent of white teens).

Both Bullock and Goldstein say this trend is likely due to teens wanting "to hide information about their activities from their mothers"—although Bullock added that the difference in the site's registration processes could be a factor: "They are just answering questions to get through being able to post pictures and posts. When Facebook was first launched, it was geared toward college students, who could more seriously answer the question 'Where are you from?' Most of the teens who log on today just want the [Facebook] page."

Although the study revealed some interesting racial preferences among teens using social media, both Bullock and Goldstein told DiversityInc that it's important for parents to monitor what their children are doing online, especially as the medium grows as a way to communicate directly with their children. As teens grow older, what they post online can potentially be viewed by recruiters and employers as they apply for college and future employment.

Francisca Martinez, Marriott International's Vice President for Global Talent Acquisition, recently shared exclusive tips on how to engage audiences from all groups across global cultures. Highlights of her presentation, along with additional strategies on how to maintain cultural competence, are available on BestPractices.DiversityInc.com.

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