Hate heat map shows where racist, homophobic tweets come from

A group of researchers have created a "Geography of Hate" map revealing racist and homophobic tweet concentrations across the U.S.

Ever wondered where those hateful, discriminatory tweets on Twitter were coming from?

A group of researchers from the Floating Sheep project – who also mapped racist tweets surrounding President Barack Obama's re-election – have geotagged racist, homophobic and ableist (directed at disabled people) tweets in the United States and plotted them on an interactive map.

Students at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., looked up all the geotagged tweets in North America between June 2012 and April 2013, manually reading and coding the sentiment of each tweet to determine if the given word was used in a positive, negative or neutral way in a project called the "Geography of Hate."

The phrase "dyke," for example, is often used negatively, but can also have positive implications: such as "dykes on bikes #SFPride," Floating Sheep said.

Of the geotagged tweets containing hateful slurs, 150,000 of them were determined to have negative connotations. They discovered 41,306 tweets containing the word "nigger" and 95,123 tweets referenced "homo," among other terms.

"Hateful tweets were aggregated to the county level and then normalized by the total number of tweets in each county," the group said. "This then shows a comparison of places with disproportionately high amounts of a particular hate word relative to all tweeting activity."

Floating Sheep explains that although Orange County, Calif., has the highest absolute number of tweets mentioning many of the slurs, because of its significant overall Twitter activity, such hateful tweets are less prominent and don't feature prominently on the map.

The map for homophobic tweets is determined by the use of words such as "dyke," "fag," "homo" and "queer."

Geography of hatehumboldt.edu

The map of racist tweets include the words "nigger," "chink," "wetback," "gook" or "spick."

Floating Sheep warns that even when normalized, many of the mapped slurs have little meaningful spatial distribution.

For example, tweets with the word "nigger" are not concentrated in any single place or region in the United States. Intead, the researchers point out, "quite depressingly, there are a number of pockets of concentration that demonstrate heavy usage of the word."

The study also examined how many unique users were tweeting these words. For example, in the Quad Cities (East Iowa), 31 unique Twitter users tweeted the word "nigger" in a hateful way 41 times.

The study's most interesting concentration comes for references to "wetback," a slur meant to denigrate Latino immigrants to the United States by tying them to "illegal" immigration, the study says.

"Ultimately, this term is used most in different areas of Texas, showing the state’s centrality to debates about immigration in the U.S.," the researchers say. "But the areas with significant concentrations aren’t necessarily that close to the border, and neither do other border states who feature prominently in debates about immigration contain significant concentrations."

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