Thursday, June 27, 2013

Geography Of Hate

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

How do we measure racism and homophobia across the United States? Humboldt State's Dr. Monica Stephens teamed up with Floating Sheep, the same group that mapped post-election Twitter hate speech to broaden the scope of the study and give a more panoramic view of America's bigotry. The Geography Of Hate map was created by geo-coding 150,000 hate tweets between June 2012 and April 2013, dividing the tweets in three categories--racist, homophobic, and disability-hating, including the words "chink," "gook," "nigger," "wetback," "spick," "cripple," "dyke," "fag," "homo," or "queer," amongst others. You might argue, however, that context is everything when it comes to these words so how did the research control for that variable? They used humans (probably woefully underpaid or even unpaid Ph.D. students, natch) to analyze and code the 150,000 tweets, eschewing machine inability to read tone and coding the usage as negative, neutral, or positive.
To add more rigor to the study, the researchers accounted for tweet density by creating a scale, essentially measuring something akin to per capita hate, accounting for population density.
So, what can we conclude from all this? On a micro level, there are some rather surprising results--click on the n word, for example, and you will see for yourself...the Deep South is not the hotbed of racism it is often stereotypically cast as. On a more macro level, hate speech is clearly alive and well-spread across America. In addition, the study demonstrates that Twitter has become a really vibrant (and vociferous) platform for the spreading of hateful ideas and even recruiting people with that sort of rhetoric. Now you might argue that 150,000 tweets is not a wide enough sample to make conclusions on, but this is a prime example that Twitter *can* have scholarly utility (don't worry, consider me as shocked as you are).

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