Facebook pages run by local law enforcement agencies significantly overrepresented Black suspects, and those practices reinforce racial stereotypes about crime, a new study suggests. The social media platform with more than a billion users makes it easy to reshare police posts that critics say can distort people's understanding of local crime, Axios reports. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed nine years of posts on the Facebook pages of nearly 14,000 local police departments. Researchers found about 100,000 posts that mentioned the ethnicity of a suspect in a crime. Roughly thirty two percent of those posts mentioned a Black person.
Black people represented just twenty percent of the people those departments ultimately arrested. And those posts were shared widely, leading to an even bigger discrepancy when comparing arrest rates to how many people saw a post that singled out a Black suspect. "Most of the country was exposed to overreporting on Black suspects," the report said. "The local news stations are getting their news directly from the Facebook pages of these agencies," said John Rappaport, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and one of the authors of the report. Rappaport said studies show that as people are exposed to more stories about Black people and crime, they become more biased. "We seem to have this assumption that crime reports should have race descriptions in them and we're not questioning it," said another report author, Julian Nyarko, Assistant Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.