When Black Death Goes Viral: The Relationship Between Social Media Exposure to Vicarious Racism and Black Americans’ Race-Based Traumatic Stress
Date of Award
Thesis - Restricted
Master of Science (MS)
Introduction: In the current era of social media, racialized police violence has received increased attention, sparking large social movements. However, this increased media coverage has made it possible for Black individuals to be vicariously and repeatedly exposed to egregious acts of racism perpetrated against those who look like them. The accumulation of these exposures can uniquely contribute to race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), the mental and emotional wear caused by direct and indirect experiences of racism and racial discrimination. Methods: In Study 1, 209 Black participants (MAge = 34.99; SDAge = 9.82) from Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) completed self-report measures assessing for daily social media use, RBTS, racial centrality, attitudes towards police, and quality of interactions with police. In Study 2, 358 Black mTurk participants (MAge = 34.80, SDAge = 10.51) participated in a 2 (Race of target: Black v. White) x 2 (Traumatic event: police killing v. non-fatal incident) between-subjects experiment. Participants completed measures that assessed social media use, racial centrality, public and private regard, and attitudes towards police. Participants were then randomly assigned to watch a video of either a police killing incident or a non-fatal incident involving either a Black or White male victim. Following the event, participants reported RBTS resulting from the video. Results: In Study 1, the more time Black individuals spent on social media, the more RBTS they reported. Additionally, those with moderate to high racial centrality had worsened RBTS. In Study 2, Black individuals who watched a police killing or watched an incident involving another Black person reported significantly more RBTS. However, Black people who watched police killing another Black individual did not experience significantly more RBTS compared to those in other experimental conditions. Furthermore, racial centrality was not found to be a moderator. Discussion: The current studies highlight the detriment of vicarious racism and the importance of racial identity, which can buffer or exacerbate the consequences of racism on Black mental health. The current findings highlight the need for more research on vicarious racism, a nascent topic, and has implications for integrating positive racial identity development in the prevention and intervention of RBTS.