Cool Toys Pic of the Day – Geography of Hate

Geography of Hate

In their own words:

“The Geography of Hate is part of a larger project by Dr. Monica Stephens of Humboldt State University (HSU) identifying the geographic origins of online hate speech.”

Patricia tweeted the link for this project to me. It is a heat map that shows the distribution of particularly hate speech as recorded in geotagged tweets in the United States. There are two posts about it on the blog associated with the map, Floating Sheep.

The Geography of Hate and FAQ: The Geography of Hate

While the map does have a link at the bottom right that provides details about the data collection and methodology for the project, the blog posts expand the discussion. The tool allows users to zoom in and out of the heat map to see concentrations of incidents of hate speech that are normalized by county, therefore, the map is not representative of population. This seems to be a stumbling point for many users according to the FAQ.

I was disappointed that the pop-up feature touted in the map details pane and the first blog post doesn’t seem to be working. Hovering over an area is supposed to provide the user with the total number of tweets and unique users for each county. Unfortunately, the pop up was only available from the default view (not when zoomed in) and only intermittently for two specific nodes (Davenport, IA and Green Bay, WI). I did report that as a bug, but the information would have helped me better evaluate how to use the site.

After reading the blog posts and playing with the tool, there are two things that bother me about this map. First, the demographic of Twitter users (as noted in a recent Pew Survey) is significantly skewed toward a young minority population. This lead to my second misgiving about this data. Although the tweets were interpreted (coded) according to basic rules of thumb (rubric) to determine which usage of the word was considered negative versus positive, there is still potential for someone outside of the conversation to mis-identify a tweet. I think this is significant in cases such as the word “queer” which is used in the LGBT community in many different ways, some of which may be construed as negative when in reality it is not. If you aren’t a part of the LGBT community (or directly associated with the person using the language) you may not understand these subtleties. A viewing of RuPaul’s Drag Race can illustrate how differently words can be used inside a community compared to outside of it.

Pew Research – The Demographics of Social Media Users – 2012

All of that said, this is still a tool that can be used to elucidate a point as long as its limitations are recognized. For example, considering the relative youth of Twitter users, it is rather disturbing that so much hate speech is being slung around. This is certainly an excellent building block for further discussion about discrimination in modern America in that regard. It could also be a foundational element for further research regarding the use of hate speech in social media and its societal implications moving forward.

This is a guest post by Chris Bulin (@Arduanne), a graduate student assistant at the Taubman Health Sciences Library.



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