Twitter Fingers and Echo Chambers: Exploring Expressions and Experiences of Online Racism Using Twitter


Social media sites, such as Twitter, represent a growing setting in which racism and related stress may manifest. The aims of this exploratory qualitative study were to (1) understand the essence of Twitter users’ lived experience with and response to content about race and racism on the platform, and (2) explore their perceptions of how discussions about race and racism on Twitter may impact health and well-being. We conducted six focus groups and four interviews with adult Twitter users (n = 27) from Berkeley, California, and Greenville, South Carolina. We managed the data with NVivo and conducted an interpretative phenomenological analysis to identify themes. Participants described Twitter content as displaying both overt and subtle expressions of racism, particularly for Black and Latinx people, and serving as an echo chamber where similar viewpoints are amplified. Participants described how Twitter users may feel emboldened to type offensive tweets based on the perception of anonymity, and that these tweets were sometimes met with community disapproval used to provide a collective calibration to restore the social norms of the online space. Participants perceived harmful mental, emotional, and physical health impacts of exposure to racist content on Twitter. Our participants responded to harmful race-related content through blocking users and following others in order to curate their Twitter feeds, actively engaging in addressing content, and reducing Twitter use. Twitter users reported witnessing racism on the platform and have found ways to protect their mental health and cope with discussions of race and racism in this social media environment.

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Data Availability

Focus group and interviews audio-recordings and transcripts are housed with the corresponding and senior authors.


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Research reported in this publication was financially supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R00MD012615 (Dr. Nguyen, T., PI) and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute under Award Number F31HL151284 (Michaels, E., PI). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Criss, S., Michaels, E.K., Solomon, K. et al. Twitter Fingers and Echo Chambers: Exploring Expressions and Experiences of Online Racism Using Twitter. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2020).

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  • Twitter
  • Coping
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Focus groups