Racial formation, inequality and the political economy of web traffic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Few studies attempt to demonstrate whether and how systemic racial inequality might form on the web. I use racial formation theory to conceptualize how race is represented, and systematically reproduced on the web, and how both may reveal forms of racial inequality. Using an original dataset and network graph, I document the architecture of web traffic, and the actual traffic patterns among and between race-based websites. Results demonstrate that web producers create hyperlink networks that steer audiences to websites without respect to racial or nonracial content. However, user navigation reflects a racially segregated traffic pattern; users navigate to racialized versus nonracialized websites (and vice versa) more than what would be expected by chance. These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, provide evidence of, and demonstrates how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence and power that exist within the web environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1089
Number of pages17
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017


  • Internet
  • algorithms
  • inequality
  • racial formation
  • racial segregation
  • social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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