They also used the data to help create a video game aimed at harm-reduction for Black teenage girls who are entering the dating age.
“We learned that Black teen girls use social media to figure out different qualities of the people they are interested in dating,” lead author Dr. Veronica Weser said. “They are also on the lookout for racist, homophobic, and transphobic attitudes, and strategically look through shared memes for this sort of content."
The study found that the girls in the study –– who ranged in ages 14 to 18 –– used Instagram for “scouting” or investigating potential partners by looking at a person’s tagged photos. Twitter, the study found, was used by the girls to find the potential partners’ “real selves.” One of the girls told researchers Twitter is “where you find the true information” about someone.
The girls in the study had experienced online bias and were aware of gendered racism, the researchers noted.
“From the study, we learned that Black teen girls navigate social media being aware of gendered racism, which they are victims of, while also being aware that they are seen as less desirable than their white teen counterparts,” co-author Dr. Ijeoma Opara said.
“This is disheartening that young Black teen girls experience this type of discrimination at an early age and can undoubtedly impact their self-esteem, their views of Black girlhood, and ultimately impact the type of partners they choose to be with who may not honor or respect them.”
Using the Data to Make a Difference
The data gathered in the study was used to create a multiplayer intervention video game aimed at keeping Black teen girls safe and reducing harm. The game is called InvestiDate and works to help Black girls make informed decisions about choosing a romantic partner.
The game helps players use social media cues –– like they already do –– to make judgments about a potential romantic partner.
“We have them practice in the game talking to friends, parents, doctors,” Weser explained. “They practice helping a friend get tested for STIs, and we walk them through the process of getting tested themselves.” The authors noted that Black girls receive sexually transmitted infections (STI) diagnoses twice the rate of white girls their same age.
The game is in its last stage of development and was designed in part by Black teen girls. The group of researchers is looking to pilot the game with 80 Black teen girls at a few high schools and hope to bring it to more girls in the future.
“The ultimate goal is to make this widely available,” Dr. Kimberly Hieftje said, adding that they “will partner with community programs to implement it in a way that is effective.”