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Personally, people with disabilities often experience microaggressions—comments or subtle insults based on stereotypes. New kinds of microaggressions are also emerging online, according to new Cornell-led research.

Research shows that these constant online insults add up. Microaggressions have an impact self-identity and change the way people with disabilities use social media. And because of their subtlety, microaggressions can be difficult for algorithms to detect, the authors warn.

“This paper offers a new perspective on how social interactions define what it means to have equal access online and offline digital world” said Sharon Hyon, a doctoral student in information science. Hung presented the research on “No Microaggressions in Social Media” on Oct. 26 at the ASSETS 2022 SIGACCESS Association for Computing and Accessibility conference.

When microaggressions occur in live settings, they are often ephemeral, with few bystanders. “When they happen on social media platforms, it’s in front of a large audience — the scale is completely different, and then they go on for people to see forever,” said co-author Aditya Vashistha, associate professor of computer science in Cornell’s Ann S. College of Computing and Information Sciences. Bowers.

Additionally, social media platforms can amplify microaggressions by potentially spreading misinformation. “We are very concerned about how this is shaping the way the general audience thinks about disability and people with disabilities,” said co-author Meg Maratte, associate professor of media, information, bioethics and social justice at Michigan State University.

Hung and co-author Mahika Phutan, a doctoral student in computer science, surveyed 20 volunteers who self-identified as having various disabilities and were active users of social media platforms. Participants were asked to describe the subtle discrimination and microaggressions they experienced and the impact they had on their lives.

Patronizing comments like, “You’re so inspiring” were the most common, along with infantile messages like, “Oh, you live alone?” People also asked inappropriate questions about users’ personal lives and made assumptions about what a person might do or wear based on their disability. Some users were told that they were lying about their disability or that they didn’t have one, especially if the disability was invisible, such as mental illness.

The researchers categorized responses into 12 types of microaggressions. Most fit categories previously recognized in offline interactions, but two were unique to social media. The first was “ghost” or ignored messages. The second related to playgrounds inaccessible to people with disabilities. For example, some users said they feel uncomfortable when people don’t add alt text to photos or use text colors they can’t recognize. One person with dwarfism said that her posts kept getting deleted because she was constantly being flagged as a minor.

After the microaggression, users had to decide how to respond. Whether they ignored the comment, reported it, or tried to educate the other person, participants said it took an emotional toll. Many took breaks from social media or limited the information they shared online.

“It’s a very difficult problem to solve,” Futan said. “Social networks are designed to facilitate interaction. If they train the criminal, then this original post will be promoted more and more.”

Participants suggested that platforms automatically detect and remove microaggressions, or that a bot could pop up with information about disability.

The majority social media platforms moderation tools already exist, but reporting systems are sometimes flawed, lack transparency, and can misidentify harassment. Microaggressions can be difficult for automated systems to detect. Unlike hate speechwhere algorithms can search for specific words, microaggressions are more subtle and context dependent.

Once the extent and types of microaggressions faced by people from marginalized groups are better understood, researchers say tools can be developed to limit the burden of dealing with them. These issues are important to address, especially with the potential expansion of virtual reality and the metaverse.

“We need to be extra vigilant and aware of how these real-world interactions translate into online settings,” said co-author Shiri Azencott, associate professor of information science at Technion-Cornell’s Jacobs Institute at Cornell Tech and Cornell Bowers CIS. . “It’s not easy social networks interactions — we will also see more interactions in virtual space.”

The negative effects of microaggressions on Indigenous and other racialized people

Additional information:
Sharon Heung et al., Nothing Micro About It: Examining Ableist Microaggressions on Social Media, 24th ACM SIGACCESS International Conference on Computing and Accessibility (2022). DOI: 10.1145/3517428.3544801

Citation: Online microaggressions strongly impact users with disabilities (2022, October 27) Retrieved October 27, 2022, from html

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