A new study has revealed that adolescents are increasingly experiencing both individual and vicarious discrimination online, which in turn triggers stress, depression and anxiety.
Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at the University of Illinois, reckons that with teenagers increasingly tethered to the Internet, more consideration should to be given to race-related online victimization not only as an Internet safety issue, but also as a public health concern for parents.
"There's been a lot of publicity about cyber-bullying and teenagers protecting themselves from online predators, and justifiably so. But people don't know much about online racial discrimination and its effects on adolescent emotional well-being," Tynes said.
Tynes said that while there have been several studies that have explored online victimization and its effect on psychological functioning, there haven't been any studies on the effects of race-related online victimization.
"The whole goal of this study was to see if there were associations between race-related victimization and negative psychological adjustment," she said.
"I wanted to make a distinction between online racial discrimination and offline racial discrimination. Since people of color experience racial discrimination in both face-to-face settings and online, I wanted to find out whether online racial discrimination impacts adjustment over and above what's experienced in offline settings. We've found evidence to suggest that it does," she added.
For the study, Tynes created a measure for race-related online victimization.
She found that 71 percent of African-American adolescents, along with 71 percent of white and 67 percent of multiracial/other adolescents, experienced vicarious racial discrimination online at least once.
Twenty-nine percent of African-American adolescents, and 20 percent of white and 42 percent of multiracial/other adolescents also reported experiencing individual discrimination directed at them while online.
The new study indicated that, regardless of a victim's racial background, increased exposure to online racial discrimination was significantly related to increased depression; females were found to experience significantly more depression and anxiety than males.
Tynes also found that victimization occurred in the usual online mediums - instant messaging, discussion forums, online games and social networking sites - and in text messages received by the victim.
The study is published in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.