Americans Online: Differences in Surfing and Evaluating Race-Targeted Web Sites by Black and White Users

Article excerpt

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There is some debate on whether Black and White audiences can be reached equally well with the same racially-targeted media. Research on Blacks' and Whites' response to race-specific messages suggests that whites respond no differently to media messages targeted to Blacks or Whites (Appiah 2001a, 2001b, 2002; Bush, Gwinner, & Solomon, 1974; Bush, Hair, & Solomon, 1979; Greenberg, 1986; Pitts, Whalen, O'Keefe, & Murray, 1989; Schlinger & Plummer, 1972; Soley, 1983; Whittler, 1991; Whittler & Dimeo, 1991), while Blacks respond to media messages more favorably when the messages are targeted to Blacks (Appiah 2001a; 2001b, 2002; Choundhury & Schmid, 1974; Greenberg & Atkin, 1982; Whittler, 1989, 1991). Despite the evidence, there still appears to be some disagreement on which racially-targeted media best appeal to audiences, particularly Black audiences. Some argue that White-targeted media is just as effective in reaching Blacks as Black-targeted media (e.g., Askey, 1995; Gadsden, 1985) while others hold that the best way to reach Blacks is through Black-oriented media (Appiah & Wagner, 2002; Fannin, 1989; Harris, 1981). Much of the work used to resolve this debate has focused on audiences' responses to traditional media rather than new media. This study explores whether Black and White audiences respond to race-specific messages from Internet Web sites as they do to messages from more traditional media.

Previous studies have been useful in understanding and highlighting how Black audiences respond to race-specific media messages and characters from television and print. Much of this research finds that Black consumers heavily rely on print and television for information and use that information when making purchases (Miller & Miller, 1992; Soley, 1983), but they often ignore television and advertising that is perceived to be targeted to primarily White audiences (Appiah, 2002; Rossman, 1994, "Where blacks," 1993). Instead Black audiences are more attracted to media with Black characters (Appiah, 2001b; Dates, 1980), rate Black characters more positively (Greenberg, 1986; Whittler, 1991 ; Appiah, 2002), and show an increased likelihood of purchasing products promoted by Black characters (Whittler, 1989). Studies also indicate that Blacks are more likely to identify with Black television characters (Greenberg & Atkin, 1982), recall more content from Black characters (Appiah, 2002; Whittler, 1991), and more likely to trust ads and editorial content in Black-targeted media ("Study Reveals Blacks," 1998).

Few, if any, empirical studies, however, have explored whether these same findings are consistent when examining media such as the Internet. As the Internet becomes more crowded and as Blacks increase use of and access to the Internet, content providers will need to know how best to reach both Black and White audiences. The purpose of this study is to determine whether Black and White Web users display differences in their surfing and evaluation of Web sites based on the target race of the site. Conceptually, it is expected that race-targeted Web sites will not affect White viewers' responses to a Web site. In contrast, it is expected that race-targeted Web sites will influence Black viewers' responses to a site.

Internet Access and Usage

Current Internet research on Blacks and Whites has focused a great deal on differences in Blacks' and Whites' access to and use of the Internet (see digital divide, Hindman, 2000; Beaupre & Brand-Williams, 1997; Henry, 1999; Joyce 1997; McConnaughey & Lader, 1998; Hoffman & Novak, 1998; Nie & Erbring, 2001; Schement, 2001; Walsh, Gazala, & Ham, 2001). For example, although Blacks with incomes below $40,000 were far less likely than Whites to own a computer and go online (Raney, 1998; Hoffman & Novak, 1998), there is evidence that Blacks with higher incomes use computers and go online at the same or greater rate than their White counterparts. …