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Geomapping Racism With Twitter 409

Hugh Pickens writes "Megan Garber writes that in the age of the quantified self, biases are just one more thing that can be measured, analyzed, and publicized. The day after Barack Obama won a second term as president of the United States, a group of geography academics took advantage of the fact that many tweets are geocoded to search Twitter for racism-revealing terms that appeared in the context of tweets that mentioned 'Obama,' 're-elected,' or 'won,' sorting the tweets according to the state they were sent from and comparing the racist tweets to the total number of geocoded tweets coming from that state during the same time period. Their findings? Alabama and Mississippi have the highest measures followed closely by Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee forming a fairly distinctive cluster in the southeast. Beyond that cluster North Dakota and Utah both had relatively high scores (3.5 each), as did Missouri, Oregon, and Minnesota. 'These findings support the idea that there are some fairly strong clustering of hate tweets centered in southeastern U.S. which has a much higher rate than the national average,' writes Matthew Zook. 'But lest anyone elsewhere become too complacent, the unfortunate fact is that most states are not immune from this kind of activity. Racist behavior, particularly directed at African Americans in the U.S., is all too easy to find both offline and in information space.'"
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Geomapping Racism With Twitter

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  • Re:Careful (Score:5, Informative)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @10:27AM (#41949209)

    The SPLC does in deed execute their honorable mission. Go to [] for other meme propagation and dissemination graphics so you can see that this is one lens to the output of a much larger engine.

  • Re:Actually Measured (Score:5, Informative)

    by stranger_to_himself ( 1132241 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @10:39AM (#41949273) Journal

    How did they account for multiple racists tweets from one "tweeter"?

    One racist sending 100 racist tweets is not the same as 100 different racists each sending one racist tweet each.

    Reading the article it doesn't look like they bothered. And they only found a total of 395 tweets which will lead to appalling precision in any of their findings. Sadly 'information scientists' don't always appear to be the best statisticians.

  • Re:Racist terms? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:01AM (#41949373)

    Sure seems to be the same to me.

    And yet they're not even close to being the same thing. In the case of Cracker Barrel, 'cracker' has more than 1 commonly used definition and it's clearly not the racial slur in the case of the restaurant. Also, the racial slur 'cracker' doesn't have the same cultural baggage associated with it []. For example, you won't find it hard to use the word 'cracker' on network television, but it would be incredibly hard to get permission to use the word 'nigger'. There are few places in the U.S. where a white person could go and have to deal with any form of racism. The same is not true for most minorities.

    If you have a problem with the word 'nigger' being considered a racial slur and can't understand the difference in cultural baggage between 'cracker' and 'nigger', you might want to take a little more time to study racial issues in this country. You obviously don't have any experience dealing with true racism first hand.

  • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:16AM (#41949469)

    Why is it irrelevant? They claim they're measuring the geolocation of racism, but only pick one very specific type.

  • Re:Actually Measured (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:36AM (#41949593) Journal

    BTW, I just checked out a sample size calculator []. For a 95 percent confidence level with a +- 5% confidence interval, and a population of 400 million, guess what your sample size needs to be.


    Now this calculation for a survey is a little different from what the researchers are doing here, but it illustrates my point. You can do a lot with small sample sizes if the differences between groups are large.

  • by a_mari_usque_ad_mare ( 1996182 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:36AM (#41949597)

    It wasn't life that was unkind, it was their fellow white Americans.

    Also, my mother passed through New York City on the way to Europe and remembers seeing signs saying 'No blacks' and such on restaurants. She is younger than 150.

  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @11:58AM (#41949755)

    The floatingsheep page specifically says, "we are measuring tweets rather than users and so one individual could be responsible for many tweets and in some cases (most notably in North Dakota, Utah and Minnesota) the number of hate tweets is small and the high LQ is driven by the relatively low number of overall tweets." It's not their fault that the author of the Atlantic article left out those details.

  • by a_mari_usque_ad_mare ( 1996182 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @01:02PM (#41950159)

    The difference? Massive levels of prejudice and bias, both official and unofficial from the federal government, state governments, the police, and the legal system. I would cite something here but this is basic, uncontroversial US history.

    I don't think you should be allowed to have racially exclusive clubs, but I think you are full of shit with your "lot of black only club". For a moment, let's assume you are right. You still must be profoundly ignorant of United States history to think the shoe is somehow on the other foot. In some Southern states, blacks are over 90% of the prison population, but I am sure that is just some crazy coincidence, right?

  • Re:Actually Measured (Score:5, Informative)

    by stranger_to_himself ( 1132241 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @01:09PM (#41950213) Journal

    I hate to break it to you, but the press doesn't understand peer reviewed work any better. Whenever media ever looks at any academic work they completely misrepresent it. That's something you get used to.

    You are right but this means that the peer review filter is even more important so that what gets out to the media and beyond has at least some chance of being right. Also, having been through the process a few times I'd say academics are at least as guilty of overstating their findings as journalists. We want the headlines and the 'impact' as much as journalists to.

  • by slacktivist ( 2563799 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @01:27PM (#41950347)

    How about they do the same thing for Romney looking at the week before the election? There were a very large number of racist tweets against him - threats to assassinate, start riots, start fires, etc.

    I don't understand this. "Don't go after the white folk racists! Them blacks is just as bad!" Why are we trying to shift the blame so that if some blacks call whites crackers and some whites call blacks niggers let's just call it even? How about we call them both out without downplaying one side OR the other. The "but they do it too" game is itself inherently racist because it detracts from the point that racism directed in any direction is immoral.

  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @01:28PM (#41950351)


    You clearly did not look at the website. The guys who did this are in academia, but the website is not an academic publication nor would any of the stuff they post garner funding. Their top articles include such things as "The Beer Belly of America", "The Price of Weed", "Church vs. Beer? on Twitter" and "Church, bowling, guns and strip clubs."

    They're doing this as a fun hobby, not serious academic research. There is no funding, no grants, nothing.

  • Re:Actually Measured (Score:3, Informative)

    by SomePgmr ( 2021234 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @06:08PM (#41952135) Homepage

    Somewhere along the line someone decided that the 'public' only understand high level concepts, so everything we communicate is written as thought it was for a 16 year old to understand.

    I don't know if it's true or not, but I've heard that it's common for news sources to target somewhere near a 6-8th grade reading and comprehension level. I imagine that's a pragmatic approach if you'd like to get a message out and reach is more important than detail.

    As for this little report, I noticed that you see dots where there are lots of people, and a shotgun pattern in the deep south. Not particularly surprising.

    I'd like to see something like this that figures racists tweets by unique persons, as a percentage by topic, and figured for the origin's population.

    I mean, 10 unique racists in 200k election tweets in Chicago would seem pretty low compared to 6 unique racists in 100 election tweets in Nowhere, Alabama (pop 26).

  • Re:Actually Measured (Score:4, Informative)

    by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @09:07AM (#41955531)

    395 racist tweets from a 0.05% sample works out to 790,000 racist tweets for the country. Even if you assume each racist only posted one racist tweet max, that's 0.25% of the country overall being racist. For the state with the highest rate (Alabama) that's 2%. In an effort to root out racism, this study is presenting their results in a careless fashion which could be used to justify discrimination and anti-Southerner stereotypes against 98% of Alabama residents because of a small minority of bad apples. It is doing the very thing it is criticizing.

    395 that contained search terms that the searcher decided indicated racist intent. There's no indication that any of the tweets that came up were filtered for actual racist intent. For example "Obama won bitch, niggers back" would have came up as a "racist" tweet. However it's likely that such a tweet was not a racist and that the author of it was probably black. If you look at the clustering of where tweets were coming from you see that a high clustering was occurring in cities like Atlanta, Georgia or Montgomery, Alabama which has a majority of a minority population (54% black and 56.6% black respectively).

    The study is flawed and was never properly scrubbed, but the results were posted because it fits a preconceived notion (the south is racist) when the majority of the effect that causes that effect to show may originate from the very population which is the victim of racism against blacks.

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal