African Americans Are Overrepresented in Law Enforcement’s Crime Posts on Social Media

Dr. Nyarko

A new study by scholars at the law schools of Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago finds that Facebook users are exposed to crime posts by law enforcement agencies that overrepresent Black suspects.

Researchers examined close to 100,000 crime-related posts from 14,000 Facebook pages maintained by U.S. law enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2019. They found that these posts overrepresented Black suspects by 25 percentage points relative to local arrest rates. The researchers also found that the disproportionate exposure of Black suspects occurred across crime types and geographic regions and that it increased with the proportion of Republican voters and non-Black residents in a jurisdiction.

“The ascent of social media as a source of crime news requires a ground-up rethinking of this issue,” the authors wrote. “Whereas traditional media can constrain and filter how law enforcement communicates with the public, social media has no external gatekeepers. Instead, law enforcement itself decides when and how to report on crime.”

“A substantial body of research shows that crime news that is disseminated through social media exacerbates the public’s fear of crime more than news in traditional media,” explains Julian Nyarko, an associate professor at Stanford Law School. “This may be due, in part, to the more active nature of reader engagement on these platforms – engagement (such as reposting and sharing) that may amplify racial stereotypes.”

The full study, “Police Agencies on Facebook Overreport on Black Suspects,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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