When Things Go Viral: Youth’s Discrimination Exposure in the World of Social Media



Youth receive a myriad of messages pertaining to their ethnicity and race daily. Youth today are overtly exposed to both interpersonal and institutional discrimination through dominating social media platforms, informed by the 24-hour news cycle. The world of social media serves as a critical platform for exposure, discourse, and engagment, underscoring the viral impact of ethnic-racial discrimination. Social media outlets, intended to foster rapid communication and community response, quickly become additional sources of marginalization and racial trauma, particularly for youth of color. The constant barrage of discriminatory content on social media, in which people of color are often dehumanized, not only distorts attitudes toward communities of color, but also shapes how youth perceive themselves and their communities. This chapter will discuss developmental implications for youth when discrimination “goes viral”. Applying a bioecological framework, this chapter unpacks the consequences of ethnic-racial discrimination in the digital social media environment and need for school, family, and policy related intervention. We conclude by identifying sources of adaptive coping and resilience to help educators, parents, and youth navigate and transform experiences with online ethnic-racial discrimination. Directions for future research, including the utility of algorithmic tools, are discussed.


Adaptive coping Adolescence Critical media Cyber discrimination Digital social media Direct discrimination Ethnic-racial identity Ethnic-racial discrimination Harassment Online discrimination Risk and resiliency Race-related stress Social media Vicarious discrimination Viral messages 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of EducationHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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