Mike Dronkers / Monday, May 13, 2013 @ 12:52 p.m. /
In what can only be described as the most soul-crushing homework ever, three HSU students had to search geotagged Tweets for slurs. Then, they had to manually read tens of thousands of those Tweets to ensure that the slurs were used as pejoratives.
They then adjusted for Twitter usage rates so that population-dense areas and rural areas were on equal hate-footing.
"For example, Orange County, California has the highest absolute number of tweets mentioning many of the slurs, but because of its significant overall Twitter activity, such hateful tweets are less prominent and therefore do not appear as prominently on our map. So when viewing the map at a broad scale, it’s best not to be covered with the blue smog of hate, as even the lower end of the scale includes the presence of hateful tweeting activity."
Where in America do people use the most hate speech?
In small towns with low diversity, according to a new map of Twitter data created by Humboldt State University geography instructor Monica Stephens and her students.
Stephens and three undergraduates mapped the geographic location of 150,000 tweets from June 2012 to April 2013 that used racist, homophobic or anti-disabled slurs. Students read each tweet in its entirety to verify it was being used in a derogatory way, then aggregated and normalized the data by county.
What the students found was a high concentration of hate speech—like the n-word and the f-word—in isolated areas.
“It proves our hypothesis that areas with low diversity use more derogatory slurs against racial and sexual minorities,” Stephens says.
Another interesting finding: A clustering of the word “wetback”— a slur used against migrant workers—in Texas.
States east of the Mississippi also used more derogatory terms than the western U.S. But that can be attributed to greater population density and higher Twitter usage in those areas.
Stephens created the map after recent discussions on hate speech censorship and online bullying. She says that although social intolerance can’t be measured in tweets alone, it does underscore the prevalence of slurs in the U.S.
“Regardless of the intention behind it, it’s clear that hate words are still a very real part of our culture,” Stephens says.
Funding for the map was provided by a University Research and Creative Activities Fellowship from HSU’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which encourages collaborative student/faculty research. Twitter data were obtained from the University of Kentucky’s DOLLY (Data on Local Life and You) Project, which has been archiving and analyzing geocoded tweet worldwide since late 2011.
The three students involved in the project were Amelia Egle, Matthew Eiben and Miles Ross. They won Best Digital Map (second place) at the California Geographic Society’s annual conference.
Details about the map and Stephens’s research methods are posted at floatingsheep.org, an academic site that maps and analyzes geocoded information from user-generated sources.
Paul Mann, News & Information, 707/826-5105