Internet Usage and Perceptions of Racism
Nicole Gardner, Cindy del Rosario, Michelle Stine, & Brian Wadiak
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate Media Effects course.
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar
The proliferation of websites put up by hate groups and the widespread
prevalence of racism and violence on television and websites may lead
to negatively skewed perceptions of reality. For example, people who watch
excessive television and are frequent internet users may estimate that
there are more hate groups than there really are, or that the real world
is much more violent than it actually is. This study examines perceptions
of reality based on the amount of television watched as well as internet
Cultivation theory suggests that the amount of medium (in this case television
and the internet) shapes a person's perceptions and beliefs of reality.
It does so through repeated exposure. Further, there are differences between
heavy and light television viewers. Based on cultivation theory, it was
hypothesized that heavy users (compared to light users) would overestimate
the prevalence of hate and racism in the world.
One-hundred respondents were selected using a convenience sample. Each
respondent was given a survey which had items pertaining to media usage
(particularly television and the internet), as well as questions pertaining
to racist stereotypes.
Four scaled questions about perceptions of racism were grouped to form
a 'Perceived Racism' index. In general, the results indicate that those
respondents who spend more time surfing the web are more likely to perceive
a higher estimate of racism. Also, the amount of time spent using the
computer for entertainment purposes (as opposed to school/work/e-mail
etc.) was positively correlated to perceived racism.
The amount of time a person spends surfing the web does seem to affect
his/her perceptions of racism. Respondents who spent more time surfing
the web were more likely to report a higher number of active hate groups.
It is likely that those who spend more time web surfing are more likely
to be in contact with websites not only of various hate groups, but also
organizations such as the Southern Povery Law Center which monitor activities
of hate groups.This exposure might induce higher estimates of perceived
racism and hate groups than actually exist.