Racism, Youth, and the Internet

In E.B Boyd’s article, “Google’s Next Mission: Fighting Violent Extremism”, the author follows the quest of Jared Cohen, leader of Google’s Google Ideas, in his efforts to understand how technology plays a part in political and social extremism in today’s youth. Jared Cohen has been attending conferences around the world to see the reason why adolescents join extremist groups and how to combat extremism using technology, such as the internet (Boyd, 2011). The internet is host to a numerous amount of extremist websites and even websites that are non-bias, such as YouTube, have been used by extremists in the past (Boyd, 2011). Cohen hopes that through his efforts, youth extremism will be better understood and possibly develop plans to prevent it from spreading (Boyd, 2011).

The question that surfaces is whether or not extremism can be solved in young adults. In Psychology And Life, under the subject of “Reversing Prejudice” an example is given of a study that deals with solving prejudice in children (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009). In Muzafer Sherif’s 1954 study (1961/1988, as cited in Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009, p. 530) two groups of boys were taken to a summer camp. The two groups, unknown to each of the other group, were divided into the “Eagles” and the “Rattlers” (1961/1988, as cited in Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009, p. 531). The boys within the groups had a sense of camaraderie as they did activities together but when one group was introduced to the other group through sports that were verses one another, they began to be hostile to the other group (1961/1988, as cited in Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009, p. 531). The researchers tried various ways to reduce hostilities, but only by working together for a common goal did the boys in the two groups get along with one another (1961/1988, as cited in Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009, p. 531). Sherif’s experiment proved the “contact hypothesis” which meant, that “a program combating prejudice must foster personal interaction” (Pettigrew, 2008 as cited in Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009, p. 531). The application of contact hypothesis can be used to combat not only prejudice, but also possibly extremism in youths as well.

In the empirical article titled, “Role Taking in Online “Classrooms”: What Adolescents Are Learning About Race and Ethnicity”, Brendesha M. Tynes conducted a study about how teenagers’ racial and ethnic experiences are shaped through online interaction via chatrooms. The method that was used for the study was a survey through the website of University of California, Los Angeles (Tynes, 2007). The participants then were interviewed through instant messaging (Tynes, 2007). The main finding of Tynes’s study was that adolescents experience both negative and positive attitudes toward radical and ethic topics (Tynes, 2007). Tynes states that, “The positive aspects included reports of learning about different ethnic groups, whereas the negative included witnessing and being victimized by racial prejudice” (Tynes, p.1315, 2007). The majority of the teenagers in the study learned the same or more about other ethnic and racial groups on the internet (Tynes, 2007). Conversely, many teenagers also had experienced racism online as well (Tynes, 2007).

I always thought that racism could not be reversed. So when I read E.B Boyd’s article, I thought that Cohen’s efforts to eradicate racism in youth was in vain. However Muzafer Sherif’s study shows that no matter the racial or ethnic background, people will get along with each other if they work together towards a common goal. The internet and its tools can foster hate and prejudice as Tynes’s study results show. However in the same study, the results indicate that the internet also can teach teenagers about other cultures in a more positive light. In conclusion, the internet can be both a detrimental and beneficial tool in the efforts to combat prejudice within the world’s youth.

1. Boyd, E.B. (2011, April 16). Google’s next mission: Fighting violent extremism. Technolog/msnbc. Retrieved from http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/04/16/6479124-googles-next-mission-fighting-violent-extremism
2. Gerrig, R. J. & Zimbardo, P. G. (2009). Psychology and Life (19th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
3. Tynes, Brendesha M. (2007). Role Taking in Online “Classrooms”: What Adolescents Are Learning About Race and Ethnicity. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1312-1320. 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1312


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