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Latinos use Facebook, Twitter for advocacy more than whites, study shows

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor has co-authored research examining the reasons Latinos and whites use the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, finding the former use them significantly more for advocacy and identity exploration than their counterparts.

Mike Radlick, content creator at Come Recommended, a public relations firm in Maryland, and Joseph Erba, assistant professor of journalism at KU, surveyed 140 white and 115 Latino Facebook and Twitter users to determine why and how they use the platforms and the gratifications they take from them. The study was among the first to specifically examine the motivations of Latinos for using social media. Radlick came up with the research question and partnered with Erba to formalize and conduct the research.

“Social media is becoming a larger part of our everyday lives, and people are becoming more sophisticated in the ways they use it,” Erba said. “We approached this study using the uses and gratifications theory because its simple framework seeks to understand the reasons people use media they do. Many studies have been done on this, but 99 percent of them focus on white users.”

Their study expanded the usual scope by surveying adults and working professionals on their motivations, as opposed to the majority of studies, which have focused on students. They sought to find out what gratifications Latinos receive from their use of each network, how those gratifications differ between the two demographics and how Latinos’ gratifications from Facebook and Twitter use differ specifically. They used four standard gratification categories for social media based on previous research: passing time; entertainment; interpersonal utility and information seeking.

The researchers added two new categories, however — advocacy and identity exploration — and that is where the largest difference between users was found. Latinos reported they were significantly more likely to seek identity and advocacy gratifications from Facebook and Twitter compared with whites. An ability to control the message, while seeking and sharing messages about their own identities in ways that previously weren’t possible is the most likely reason for the disparity, researchers said.

“One of the reasons racial minorities are using social media is they have been so heavily stereotyped in the media for so long, and now they have the tools to create their own message and share their own content,” Erba said.

Latino respondents also reported that they are significantly more likely to use Facebook to pass time, for personal connections and for entertainment, but were significantly more likely to use Twitter for seeking information and advocacy. When seeking information about identity, they used each equally.

The findings suggest those seeking to reach Latino audiences with messages about advocacy and/or identity can do so through carefully crafted messages via the appropriate network, Erba said. However, he added that a main limitation of the study is that it overlooks individual differences within Latino and white audiences, so results need to be interpreted as explanatory.

Radlick and Erba hope to expand the research by asking the same questions of a larger sample size to see if the findings are replicated among larger groups. They will present the findings in August at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference.