Whaddya Say?

The latest Heartland Monitor Poll finds that whites and minorities both use social media, but they chat about different things.

Darren McCollester AFP/Getty

When Stephanie Williams saw that Western High School in her town of Shively, Kentucky, was on lockdown after reports of an active shooter, she quickly shared the news on Facebook. Williams, a 42-year-old registered nurse—has several friends with children at the school and wanted to make sure they knew about the situation. Outside of emergencies, she posts weekly, typically about topics related to her community or medical articles connected to her work. “If it’s useful to me, it’s definitely useful to someone else,” she says.

Many social-media platforms have evolved to become far-reaching forums, places to share updates with everyone from friends to grandparents to erstwhile acquaintances. They’ve also emerged as go-to outlets for news stories about both national issues and regional ones. According to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, 60 percent of people on these platforms have used them to share information about a local issue or event. This makes sense given one of the poll’s other findings: People actually spend more time engaging on social media with those live nearby (64 percent) than with others who live farther away.

The frequency of sharing is pretty consistent across individuals of different racial backgrounds. However, the topics people discuss differ greatly by race.

White respondents were most likely to have posted about events or entertainment, with 60 percent having done so. Black respondents, though, were most likely (67 percent) to have shared information about education or schools. Hispanic respondents were most likely (62 percent) to have shared a post on crime or public safety. White respondents were far less likely  to have shared any information on either education or crime.

On average, 62 percent of nonwhite respondents who had shared something on social media about local issues posted about education or schools, compared to 46 percent of white respondents. That same pattern holds on the issues of crime or public safety, addressed by 56 percent of nonwhite respondents versus 42 percent of whites.

White respondents were slightly more likely to share information about events and entertainment (60 percent vs. 56 percent) and charities or fundraisers (56 percent vs. 48 percent) than nonwhite respondents.

Franklin Delacruz, a 34-year-old information-technology professional in Florida, says he shares mostly about political candidates such as Bernie Sanders, his choice in the 2016 presidential election. Tyisha Griffiths, an 18-year-old student at Princeton, often post items about news she’d like to discuss further, such as the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram terrorists.

Data has consistently shown persistent racial inequities in both education and thecriminal justice system, which may help explain why members of minority groups discuss these topics more heavily on social media. “I like to get a sense of diverse viewpoints on things that are currently happening, like the Black Lives Matter movement,” Griffiths explains.

An earlier version of this story said that 42 percent, rather than 46 percent, of white respondents who shared something on social media about local issues posted about education or schools.