Black Emerging Adult Women's Social Media Use, Experiences of Online Victimization, and Mental Health in the U.S.

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Stanton, Alexis, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Avery, Lanice, University of Virginia

Since its inception, media has played an important role in how people behave, identify, and think about themselves and others (Bandura, 2001; Brown et al., 2002; Gerbner et al. 2002; Steele, 2006). In an increasingly technological world, research has shown the multitude of ways in which digital and social media, particularly, influence users’ identities and well-being (Deaton, 2015; Sobande, 2020; Stein et al., 2021). Much of the social media literature, however, has not yet explored diverse groups’ experiences or meaningfully examined how socio-demographic factors, such as race/ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and socioeconomic status (SES), may shape users’ digital media engagement. Therefore, this dissertation aims to address some of these gaps by centering U.S. Black emerging adult women. Specifically, this dissertation uses key media theories, such as the Critical Media Effects (CME) framework (Ramasubramanian & Banjo, 2020), intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1989), and misogynoir (Bailey, 2013; Onuoha et al., 2023), to highlight U.S. Black emerging adult women’s distinct social media use patterns, behaviors, and preferences, and to uncover how their simultaneous experiences of racism and sexism shapes their digital media engagement. Each of the three studies in this dissertation used online survey data that was collected via Qualtrics Panels. In this dataset, participants were self-identified Black women aged 18 to 30 located in the U.S. (N = 354). Results from study 1 showed that Black emerging adult women’s use of social media sites, such as Tumblr, Snapchat, and Instagram, and their active non-social use engagement (i.e., users create content but do not directly interact with others; Gerson et al., 2017) were important predictors of their experiences of general, sexual, individual, and vicarious online victimization. Results from study 2 demonstrated how Black emerging adult women contend with unique body image pressures and how their experiences of identity- and appearance-based victimization in online spaces may shape how they think about and present their bodies online. Specifically, analyses showed that: (1) Black women’s internalization of body ideals was positively associated with more filter use and more body and facial image photo manipulation; and (2) online victimization strengthened some of the negative effects (i.e., body image photo manipulation) associated with Black women’s internalization of body ideals. Results from study 3 showed that Black emerging adult women’s experiences of online victimization significantly predicted poorer mental health, including more generalized anxiety and depressive symptoms. Additionally, analyses revealed how Black women’s evaluations of societal gendered racial attitudes, rather than their personal evaluations of gendered racial attitudes, influenced the relation between their experiences of online victimization and their mental health. Overall, findings from this dissertation highlight the challenges that U.S. Black emerging adult women may face in digital spaces and the impact that their experiences of race-and gender-based online victimization have on various aspects of their identity, body image, and mental well-being.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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