Abstract: Navigating Negativity Online: How Gender and Sexual Minority Youth Cope with Cyber Discrimination (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Navigating Negativity Online: How Gender and Sexual Minority Youth Cope with Cyber Discrimination

Friday, January 18, 2019: 10:15 AM
Union Square 17 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Shelley Craig, PhD, Associate Dean & Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Andrew Eaton, MSW, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Lauren McInroy, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University, OH
Ashley Austin, PhD, Associate Professor, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL
Sandra D'Souza, Master's Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Sreedevi Krishnan, Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Gordon A. Wells, MSW, MSW Student, University of Toronto, ON
Lloyd Twum Siaw, MSW Student, University of Toronto, ON
Vivian WY Leung, PhD Student, University of Toronto, ON
Background and Purpose: Gender and Sexual Minority Youth (GSMY) lack support navigating their identities and psychosocial risks. When their offline environment presents challenges, many GSMY turn to information and communication technologies (ICTs) – Internet, social media, and mobile devices – to develop their identities, cope with daily stressors, and find supportive communities. However, online spaces also contain negativity and bias (e.g., violent threats and microaggressions related to gender identity and sexual orientation). Such discrimination differs from cyberbullying, which is typically focused, perpetrated by offline peers, and carries over into the offline world. How GSMY cope with negative comments online is critical to understand, as these experiences may threaten important online sources of coping, identity development, and resilience for GSMY.

This paper describes a grounded theory investigation of how GSMY deal with negativity online.

Methods:This sample (n=5,243) was drawn from a mixed-methods, cross-sectional online GSMY survey. Inclusion Criteria: 14-29; self-identify as GSMY; reside in United States or Canada. Participants: Age-diverse (M=18.22, SD=3.61); range of sexual identities, including: pansexual/panromantic (30.1%, n=1,576); bisexual/biromantic (26.2%, 1,373); and queer (21.1%, n=1,106). Major gender identities included: woman (41.1%, n=2,592); non-binary (23.9%, n=1,506); genderqueer (19.5%, n=1,229); and man (17.1%, n=1,080). Most were online >5 hours per day (46.5%, n=2,932) and most frequently accessed YouTube (75.1%, n=4,736); Facebook (75%, n=4,732); and Tumblr (59.1%, n=3,728). Open-ended responses to ‘How do you deal with negativity (mean comments) online’ were qualitatively analyzed using grounded theory. Seven independent coders used open, axial, and selective coding to agree upon thirty themes clustered under five categories then re-analyzed each response for primary, present, and absent themes (coded 0,1,2) to generate frequencies.

Results: The following themes and subthemes were identified: 1) Passive and proactive avoidance (Ignore, Don’t Respond, General Avoidance, Behavioural Avoidance, Sidetrack, Don’t Post, Observer); 2) Respond (Argue/Fight, Sarcasm, Educate, Report Person, Block Person, Call for Website Patrol, ‘Like’ Aligning Comments, Share Posts to Educate, Feel Upset/Anxious/Sad, Feel Tired); 3) Adaptive Coping (Appraise Situation; Appraise Self; Preventative Strategies; Shrug it Off; Part of Being Online; Seek Support; Provide Support; Focus on Self; Reflect; Reframe to Positive); 4) Maladaptive Coping (Self Harm; Unable to Cope); and 5) Non-Issue (Don’t Receive Negative Comments). Ignoring comments was the most prevalent primary theme (45.1%, n=2,365), followed by block person (11.7%, n=615) and feel anxious (4.9%, n= 6.3%, n=329), however responses were multilayered: ‘I usually ignore it. Sometimes it really gets to me, and I end up saying something, but it usually doesn't help.’ Multiple themes appeared in some responses: ‘Not well…I get [anonymous hate] frequently. They almost all tell me I'm better off dead and to go kill myself…I normally self-harm after those comments but I also seek help from other people using tumblr.’

Conclusions and Implications: GSMY cope with online negativity and discrimination in nuanced and complex ways. This presentation will explicate an emerging theory that highlights the resiliencies and challenges of GSMY encountering online negativity, with considerations for how social work research and practice can address this threat to the safety of online spaces for GSMY.