Social technologies for health have become essential means for providing underserved populations greater social connectedness and increased access to novel health information. However, these technologies have also had negative unintended consequences. Populations that have historically suffered institutional discrimination and racism offline, are now subject to implicit discrimination and further inequity as a result of online networks that shape their engagement with information about both urgent and longstanding threats to their personal health and their community’s wellbeing. Given the complex institutional and community histories that underwrite these contemporary network forces, reducing inequities requires an understanding of how to unravel the legacy of racism from emergent network patterns that, despite their unintended consequences in perpetuating health inequities, have nevertheless served a valuable role in maintaining community pride and cultural identity. The problem we are addressing is a 21st century problem that arises from the interaction between the history of institutional discrimination and racism in health, and the network dynamics of how a community’s structure affects the flow of novel information and unfamiliar ideas through a population.
Research on this project was supported under the Robert Wood Johnson Pioneer Grant for “Network Science to Improve Health Equity in Underserved Online Communities” to PI Damon Centola. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.