Abstract: The O(nline) N(egativity) Study: Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Experiences with Digital Microaggressions (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The O(nline) N(egativity) Study: Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Experiences with Digital Microaggressions

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lauren McInroy, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Oliver Beer, PhD, Ph.D. Graduate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Ian Zapcic, MSW, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Andrew Eaton, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Regina, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Background: Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) experience significant identity-based prejudice and discrimination, which can have detrimental impacts on multiple aspects of their well-being. Subtle forms of such prejudice and discrimination often manifest as microaggressions – “commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities... that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward members of oppressed groups” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 23).

However, while emerging literature indicates that SGMY are at greater risk of overt forms of digital violence (e.g., cyberbullying, online harassment) with negative resulting consequences, research has not explored SGMY’s encounters with covert and subtle expressions of prejudice and discrimination via the internet. Sexual and gender minority (SGM) microaggressions in digital contexts may take many forms, including epithets, disparagement, intentional misinformation, and stereotyping.


Sample: 1804 self-identified SGMY (adolescents and young adults aged 18-24, M = 16.0, SD = 1.9) from the United States (31.5%), Canada (22.1%), and the United Kingdom (46.5%) were recruited via the internet to complete a mixed-methods Qualtrics survey. One-third (32.8%) of respondents identified as transgender, non-binary, or genderfluid. Prevalent sexualities among respondents included bisexual (31.0%), lesbian (19.4%), and pansexual (12.3%).

Given the absence of instruments measuring subtle and ambient forms of digital prejudice and discrimination, this study adapted questions from existing measures of SGM microaggressions to explicitly ask respondents about their experiences via internet-enabled technologies. Additional items were developed with expert consultation from INQYR.

The study also utilized an innovative digital vignette method. Consisting of brief, evocative scenarios, vignettes effectively elicit stimulus responses, examine individual cognitions, and explore novel or sensitive topics. Technological advances have rapidly expanded their potential format, usage, and delivery options. Respondents were shown a vignette scenario comprised of five social media posts, each depicting some form of prejudice and/or discrimination towards SGM people, to replicate SGMY’s encounters with digital microaggressions in the social media environment.

Results: This presentation discusses two aspects of the overarching study results.

(1) The first ever microaggressions measure developed specifically for the digital environment, generated via an exploratory factor analysis of the items adapted from extant SGM microaggressions measures. The final measure consists of two separate sub-scales of microaggressions; (a) those directed at the individual in the digital environment and (b) those that the individual sees directed at others or ambiently in the digital environment.

(2) The results of implementing the digital vignette method; including respondents’ (a) immediate reactions and (b) likely responses to encountering microaggressions in their digital environments, as well as (c) the possible factors impacting their responses.

Discussion: This study is the first to explore the complexities of digital prejudice for SGMY from their perspective using digital visual methods. Understanding these experiences is critical to the future of social work, as emerging research suggests digital violence and discrimination has been linked to adverse consequences in various youth populations. In a context characterized by the omnipresence of technology, social workers must be prepared to support youth in effectively navigating the risks of the digital milieu to access many opportunities and resources.