Twitter Hate Speech: Map Shows Areas With Most Homophobic Tweets


There are 107 million Twitter accounts in the U.S, so it stands to reason that not every user is a politician, celebrity, or anyone else whose "tweets" are under close scrutiny by millions of people around the world.

It turns out that many users — or at least the content of their posts — are simply ... hateful.

Students at Humboldt State University in California have geotagged 150,000 instances of hate speech from tweets across the country and found that everyone's a little bit racist (and homophobic, and ableist). Three undergraduate students painstakingly read through all those tens of thousands of tweets, eliminating neutral uses of hate words (for example, "the word 'homo' is bad") to paint a picture of exactly where the most hateful tweets are coming from.

To give you a better idea of where this project ended up, here's a map of where the word "fag" was used most in the tweets surveyed (only tweets that were posted with their corresponding location were used):

As mentioned above, student researchers did not use an algorithm to point them toward tweets that simply contained the word "fag" — instead, they sought out tweets that used "fag" negatively as a homophobic slur, based on a rubric they devised.

The scale in the bottom right-hand corner refers to normalized data, which gives readers a better understanding of the frequency of hateful words on Twitter by individual county.

Here's another map, this one showing the use of the word "wetback," a slur generally used to describe Mexican immigrants:

As you can see, eastern Texas seems to be the hub of the use of this word, though the concentration of its use does not necessarily increase closer to the U.S.-Mexico border, where more Mexican immigrants may reside.

Looking through the map word by word — there are 4 homophobic slurs, five racist slurs, and the ableist slur "cripple" to choose from — it appears that the South is most diverse in its word choice, with areas of higher population being the most "offensive." However, other population-dense areas like Southern California and even the Seattle area are also big offenders, especially of racial slurs. Hate is everywhere, and it doesn't seem to matter where a person lives.

I find that the only thing this map is missing is the age of the person tweeting, although it would be extremely difficult to figure out a Twitter user's age unless it was posted on their profile. The average person with a Twitter account is 37-years-old, though another study claims that a whopping 73.7% of Twitter users who actually use their accounts are between 15 and 25-years-old. Could age-based naïveté be contributing to the use of hateful remarks?

It would also be interesting to find out if social media's relative anonymity makes this problem appear worse on a map than the situation truly is in certain places. Would a 20-year-old really use hateful slurs in person, or just on their Twitter account?

You can read more about the study here, and perhaps we can try to make sense of these troubling results together: tweet me @christinesalek.