Youth Exposure to Hate in the Online Space: An Exploratory Analysis

Today’s youth have almost universal access to the internet and frequently engage in social networking activities using various social media platforms and devices. This is a phenomenon that hate groups are exploiting when disseminating their propaganda. This study seeks to better understand youth exposure to hateful material in the online space by exploring predictors of such exposure including demographic characteristics (age, gender and race), academic performance, online behaviours, online disinhibition, risk perception, and parents/guardians’ supervision of online activities. We implemented a cross-sectional study design, using a paper questionnaire, in two high schools in Massachusetts (USA), focusing on students 14 to 19 years old. Logistic regression models were used to study the association between independent variables (demographics, online behaviours, risk perception, parental supervision) and exposure to hate online. Results revealed an association between exposure to hate messages in the online space and time spent online, academic performance, communicating with a stranger on social media, and benign online disinhibition. In our sample, benign online disinhibition was also associated with students’ risk of encountering someone online that tried to convince them of racist views. This study represents an important first step in understanding youth’s risk factors of exposure to hateful material online.

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Tags: online hate; hate speech; online disinhibition; online safety