Mapping Hate

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Students at Humboldt State University have put together a map of racist and homophobic tweets that were made between June 2012 and April 2013. They looked at 150,000 tweets in all. You can find the map here. The map indicates tweets that expresses prejudice against blacks, East Asians, and Latinos, as well as prejudice against gays and disabled people.

Some of the results are not surprising. Most of the hateful tweets come from rural areas, and, yeah, more of them come from the southeastern U.S. than the rest of the country. Yet there are also some things that seem odd. For example, there appears to be hotspots of homophobia in southeastern New Mexico, on the Oregon-Washington border, at the southern end of Lake Tahoe, and in a couple of places in eastern Wasington. On the other hand, there are few homophobic tweets from Mormon Utah, except for a place just outside of Salt Lake City. There are hotspots of anti-black racism just north of Sacramento, California and in Twin Falls, Idaho. And there are hotspots of anti-Chinese sentiment in central Virginia and in a couple of places in Minnesota. It’s possible that these anomalies may be due to a few people obsessively tweeting over and over again. I would like to know more about the methodology that was used in making this map.

One thing we learn is that “queer” appears to be a more popular epithet than “fag”. And “wetback” is popular in a couple of parts of Texas, but almost nowhere else. The map also gives the impression that anti-black racism is much more of a problem than anti-Latino racism.

However, the most striking thing about this map is how there are far more hate tweets from the eastern U.S. than from the western U.S. (with the exception of the anomalies I just mentioned). The rate of hate tweeting drops off sharply from central Kansas westwards. I know for a fact that there are a lot of racists and homophobes here in the West, so why this huge difference? Without knowing more about how this map was made, I can only put forward the following theory. There is a common stereotype that people from the East Coast are ruder and more verbally aggressive than people from the West Coast. I know from personal experience that there is some truth to this stereotype. (I have lived in Boston and in New York, two cities where rudeness is almost a way of life. People in L.A. can be rude sometimes, but it’s nothing at all like New York.) Could the corollary of this be that people in western states are less likely to vent their racism on Twitter than people in eastern states? I wonder.

I have some criticisms of the way this map was made. The students sought to measure prejudice against people with disabilities by counting the number of times people used the work “cripple”. This word is tactless and insensitive, but it is not hate speech. And it might have illuminating if these students had looked for derogatory words about Native Americans, Arabs, Jews, South Asians, and Muslims. As it is, this map only gives a partial portrait of the current state of racism in the U.S.

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