The Geography of U.S. Hate, Mapped Using Twitter

Can a map derived from hateful tweets tell us where homophobes and racists live in the U.S.?

  • Share
  • Read Later
geography-of-hate

Matt Peckham / TIME

Skim the zoomed-out surface of Humboldt State University’s alarming “Hate Map,” and you’ll encounter angry clouds of bright red framed by smears of gloomy blue, as if some giant freak storm were raining down hell across the U.S.

(MORE: Star Wars and Doctor Who Fans Clash at Sci-Fi Convention)

What you’re looking at is actually a map created by pairing Google’s Maps API with a hailstorm of homophobic, racist and other prejudicial tweets. It’s part of a project overseen by Humboldt State University professor Monica Stephens, who, along with a team of undergraduate researchers, wanted to test for geographic relationships to hate speech.

Above the map, the words homophobic, racist and disability define alternate “hate storm” views, each describing a range of highly offensive terms. Click on the keywords or any of their subcategories and the map shifts, the splotches reorganizing to reflect occurrences of the selected term: bright red areas describe the “most hate,” while light blue ones describe “some hate.”

Creating a map like this is essentially about data plotting. In this case, HSU says the data was derived from “every geocoded tweet in the United States from June 2012 to April 2013” that contained keywords related to hate speech. How’d HSU collect all of that Twitter data? Through DOLLY, a University of Kentucky project that maps social media according to geography, allowing researchers to then comb through the data for patterns or correlations. But what about tweets that used the keywords in a positive (that is, “critical of them”) sense? HSU’s researchers read through the tweets manually, categorizing each as positive, neutral or negative — the map only displays the tweets categorized as negative.

What can the map tell us about hate speech in the U.S.? That’s where this gets tricky. Cycling through all of the views, you might conclude that racists, homophobes and the disability-bigoted plague the country from the Midwest to the East Coast (or that, conversely, things are fairly quiet from the Rockies to the Pacific). But as Stephens herself notes, “Even when normalized, many of the slurs included in our analysis display little meaningful spatial distribution,” and as she later tweeted, “in the East Coast the counties are smaller, so if a word is used in adjacent counties it appears as a hot spot,” which accounts for some of the East Coast–West Coast disparity.

It is a depressing picture — 150,000 insults aggregated over the course of 11 months. But what’s less clear is how any of this maps out demographically. For instance, the only attitudes captured here are of people who actually use Twitter and have geotagging enabled (slightly more than 1% of all Twitter users). Within that group, it only reflects those willing to engage in hate speech publicly (it’s also not clear that geotagging is indicative of where people actually are — Twitter itself says you need a third-party application to provide exact coordinates). What’s more, this approach narrows the definition of hate speech to specific terms and ignores broader, harder to capture speech. (Just because someone isn’t using these exact words doesn’t mean they’re not tweeting hateful racist or homophobic things, to say nothing of those with prejudices choosing not to express them on Twitter).

In any case, the map does seem to show that hate speech is sadly alive and well on social networks in the U.S.

WATCH: North Texas Tornadoes Were ‘Like Hell’

199 comments
Rapture_Me
Rapture_Me

So what you have is a self appointed judge of post of others clouded by a personal view of their own. What these people call hate is hate based on their view of others. This is not scientific and only serves to show the bigoted view off those that have developed and conducted this. This should be given all the serious consideration that Lucy of the Peanuts gang gave when she dispensed her wisdom to Charlie Brown.

AliaMichelle
AliaMichelle

idk, my basic analysis of east coast vs west coast is that west coasters act nicer than they are and east coasters act meaner than they are.... so idk if you can really glean anything from who is mouthing off on twitter :S

kujirakira
kujirakira

I think the approach chosen is really only effective in isolating overt racism against African Americans.

The chosen slurs for Asians in particular are not actually that common. Though there were a rash of racist comments in 2011 following the earthquake-tsunami off the coast of Japan. I find a significant portion of racism towards Asians on twitter focuses on dietary preferences -- ie: the consumption of whales for Japanese, or dogs for Koreans, or cats for Chinese.


JasonPogue
JasonPogue

This map is incredibly misleading. Aside from the fact that "research" using a Twitter sample is not representative, if you look at http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/map and select the maps showing population density and distribution of racial/ethnic groups you can see how a combination of these two factors might lead to the above map - let alone the many other hidden variables impacting this data.

It is clear and painful to see and hear about the hate that continues to exist - if the above graph proves anything in combination with the population density maps above, it proves that hate continues to exist everywhere people live.

I applaud Humboldt State for trying to raise awareness, but when we publish graphs like these without sound research and analytics are we really helping any cause? Unfortunately this map results in nothing more than political propaganda that will likely divide us even more rather than win a hearing with those who may think differently. 

Even worse, it may be used as an excuse to puff ourselves up - the battle against destructive language and thought begins first and foremost within my own heart. If we think we are beyond hate, we are quite elaborately fooling ourselves with colorful maps.

HessJames
HessJames

Well for sure Indiana but, with the ones we have in office they have no say it's the people who get the say,so our fight now is to get the republicans out and put the ones in place that were made to make Indiana one of the greatest states around,why fight with them ,they know it's our vote so I say ,Don't worry be happy Nix6 ,it's our constitution that their by law should be charged for trying to change what is Unconstitutional.And Bless you Republicans for only God judges,and in my heart he's with all not just your way.(:

cam777
cam777

What's the point!  To control what we say!!!!!  This is messed up! Freedom of speech is not a crime! And you have no right trying to make it one! This is the most obscene thing I have ever seen! As usual they just throw  info out there to create division and hate. People you better wake up and realize where this is going. Why would anybody even come up with somthing like this? What is it supose to prove, other than another way to control and divide. United we stand, divided we fall!

DanielC.Mathis
DanielC.Mathis

I love how they only are using the words to define as hate. Context means a lot, like people tweeting about the use of hte words or complaining to someone that they used the words. This is very misrepresentative. If they are doing this with these words what other words are they tracking what other words is the government tracking. Is it soon going to be if you tweet and hate word or a race word you will be fine or charged. Has anyone seen the Demolition Man you are fine 10  credits for a violation of the morality code. Don't think the tech won't be abuse or manipulated either.

BernadetteWilsonConley
BernadetteWilsonConley

This is a perfect example of how Social Science research should not be conducted. The researchers didn't measure hate speech in the US. They measured hate-speech on Twitter, and even that was done poorly. Twitter and Tweets are a very inaccurate measure of hate speech in the US, or of any aspect of the US population at large.

From the short amount of research I've been able to do in the last hour, only 18% of the US population uses Twitter. They are disproportionately under 30 and live in large cities - compared both to the US population at large and the majority of internet users. About half of Twitter account holders never post anything, and instead log on only to follow other accounts they are interested in. A single Twitter User can produce a disproportionate number of Tweets. This makes me wonder why news channels are so eager to report what is trending and being said on Twitter by less than 10% of the US population.

The researchers didn't measure hate-speech in the US. They measured total number of Tweets in the US and mixed in some hate speech. If the researchers were determined to use Twitter as a tool for measuring hate-speech, they could have sorted the Tweets by user and area, tagged which users used hate speech in Tweets during a specified time period (limiting the influence of singular users), and produced a map showing % of Twitter users with at least 1 racist hate language post out of total active Twitter posting population. Even then, the proper label for the map would be The Geography of US Hate on Twitter.

If you want to see a map of hate in the US, try checking out Southern Poverty Law Center's website, which shows active hate groups in the US. Even better would be if someone could produce a map showing where hate crimes have been committed (though that would be subject to local jurisdictions having laws on the books and authorities being willing to prosecute).

nkiflemar
nkiflemar

This map is crazy.  I live in AZ with Arpaio and finger wagging Jan Brewer, where they have minutemen to parole the border, Russel Hatred Pierce recently voted out, Evan Meecham who was finally impeached as Governor.  I am from Iowa and people take care of each other, their communities and their schools at all costs. I also lived in Vermont, where there is a whole lot more hatred in AZ than in any of the states listed here.

WayneJackson1
WayneJackson1

Well Now that i have thought about How many TROLL ACCOUNTS Are on Facebook & probably twice as many on twitter This is not an accurate study! There are people who make troll accounts on both sites Facebook & twitter called TROLL accounts that say things to stir controversy on those sites On facebook they do it & make money sadly we Have all had run ins with some radical extremist person who says all kinds of mean crap online just to make trouble they dont have to think or believe in what they do they are just there to stir controversy to make more money for shares & likes & retweets... There are Hundreds of accounts like this!

JimNasium946
JimNasium946

Why did she leave out words offensive to white people??

AsaelDelgado
AsaelDelgado

Not surprised. The obvious locations where the MOST HATE will be.  Majority of the Red States.. *not saying everyone is the same in those Red States*

Perfessr
Perfessr

Fascinating!  I clicked on the "N" word, then hovered the cursor over the blazing red site nearest my home in Idaho wanting desperately to understand the depth of the hate in this area.  An explanatory bubble appeared noting that the huge, blazing red bubble indicated that the data had been collected from two tweets made by one user.  Hmmmm.

filemax
filemax

Where the hell is the category for "cracker"? Does it simply not exist or do only guilty white people care?

Apotexx
Apotexx

I wonder if they have a map of political hate speech influenced by Sal Alinski tactics that are held in such regard by we Democrats.  The whole country would be red with rage, too cool.

JimRousch
JimRousch

It's funny how people in the "Bible Belt" claim to LOOOOOVE Jesus (who said we are to love our brother), but the very same area is about as red as RUDOLPH'S NOSE!

Hypocrisy in organized religion?  Who'd have thought that?

If Jesus taught love and compassion, why are most of His "followers" full of hate?

Kanohoaloha
Kanohoaloha

Too bad they didn't include Hawai‘i -would have been interesting to see - but we're not part of the US, anyway...and apparently neither is Alaska!

JimRousch
JimRousch

The red states are glowing red?  Some surprise, huh?  Nothing more to see here. move along.

MelissaLewis
MelissaLewis

Hmmm, I feel like my area is red-- but we also have legalized Gay Marriage... Does this take into account how much of the population actually uses Twitter? 

Patticus
Patticus

This is a PERFECT example of how to lie with statistics and faulty APIs. Expanding the graph out displays a massive amount of hate, but when normalizing the data and drilling down there are small pockets. The Google Maps API just wasn't made for this type of analysis. ‪#‎HateTheHateMap‬

Yipicya
Yipicya

Also, the agenda of the professor (I went to HSU) is pretty much hate filled to those who disagree with her radical lefty views

ToxeyHall
ToxeyHall

Seems like I need to move out west. Chicago isnt really homophobic but it is extremely segregated.

refinch
refinch

Seems more a map of contrived political correctness to me.  It depends on who's doing the defining.  I think it's a crock.

PeppyPepper
PeppyPepper

I don't know how this data is being collected, really... WV is lighting up redder than Rudolph's nose, but seriously, a lot of WVians have the,  "I don't have business putting my nose behind closed doors" attitude to LGBT people.  I hardly call that hate.

Cosmic_Fire
Cosmic_Fire

Looking at this map, it has to be going by population because North Central Nebraska and South Central South Dakota should be blazing red.

MichaelLeoGlovikII
MichaelLeoGlovikII

This is so wrong....IOWA??? NO. I'm from Iowa, love it, gay marriage, everyone is so nice, OKLAHOMA?? Says hardly any hate? I live here in OK now...WRONG again!

LeeFrank
LeeFrank

Has this map been adjusted for population density? It really looks like the most "hateful" tweets are just lining up to the areas with the highest population density. I would expect more tweets and more hateful tweets in areas that have a higher population density (i.e. urban vs rural.) 

If you scaled the map data so that it is (% of hateful tweets / population density) per county or something like that... i think it would look a lot different and give you the information you are looking for. If you have already done that. Bravo. Would like to know.


Coruscant_Night
Coruscant_Night

It looks really bad when it's zoomed out like this, but if you go to the map and zoom in a bit, it's all really localized.  Yeah, obviously it's still bad that this stuff is being said, I know, and I'm not trying to diminish that.  But, just zoom in one time and it doesn't look as bad as it seems in that pic.  (Click on the pic to get the interactive map.)

CharliePiefer-Wynott
CharliePiefer-Wynott

Im so sure this is true I live in southern Maine most tolerant to gay lifestyle and we are a equality state too!

@devolverful
@devolverful

Remember kids, red is bad, blue is good. That's what our new founding fathers want us to be reminded of daily. It's all part of the low level conditioning needed to move to the next phase, the removing of all opposition. See it was GE/NBC who put Tim Russert up to placing the red label on the Republican leaning states and blue on Democrat in the 2000 election. That was no small event in the course of human history. Russert had second thoughts no doubt later in life after he considered fully what he had done. Red is the color of rebellion and in the case of this little fascist writer, the color of hate. It's called low level programming. Everyone uses it  to dehumanize their opponent in politics and war. Nothing new there. I'm just pointing out this is no haha joke. These people are fascists and fascists are capable of putting the hurt on you.


And also just to get it in there, you can't fing sucker punch then pounce on someone unless you're willing to risk getting shot. Get a fing clue you fing morons on the left. It fing doesn't matter what led up to him lying in wait and putting a whipping on the other dude, he did it and that's the crime. You can treble it because we now know by way of Trayvon's friend Rachel he did it because he thought Zimmerman was a gay man. Since gays wont condemn one can only conclude these charades crying for rights are really nothing more than a POWER GRAB.

It doesn't get any more stupid and evil than this sht. We will never overcome. We can only hope to minimize the damage that can be inflicted.

JasonPogue
JasonPogue

I will note - which I did not make clear - that my comments were less with regard to the author of this article, and more with regard to the masses that are taking the map out of context for their own agenda. Both author and Monica Stephens admit the limitations of this graph.

Rapture_Me
Rapture_Me

@cam777 It's not scientific andd is based on the bigoted closed mind of a person with a brainwashed mind by the dead head suits in our lame universities. 

shan22044
shan22044

@BernadetteWilsonConley 

Great post. I could tell at first glance that the map is misleading. Aren't there more hate groups in Florida than anywhere else?

cam777
cam777

@JimRousch  Is your area lighting up because of your hate speech against Christians? I doubt it because it's okay to hate Christians, white people, conservatives, and anti abortionist, people who believe in the constituiton, and people who support traditional marriage. It's okay for you to hate good, and elevate evil. Jesus' followers are not full of hate. We are against evil, we speak up against the things that are evil, and you support the things that are evil. So who is full of hate. It's really is okay for Christians to stand up against evil, we are suppose to stand up against evil. So when we do it's not hypocrisy. Your hate speech against Christians may intimidate some Christians, but you don't intimidate me. You are a dime a dozen, pushing your hate agenda's, causing division, by supporting lies, supporting evil. If I were you, I would rethink who you are attacking! Pick up your Bible and read what it's all about, and who has already won the battle! Right now you are so on the wrong side!

GodIsntReal
GodIsntReal

I didnt realize facts made someone a radical lefty. Interesting.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

@MichaelLeoGlovikII  Remember, these results are based on tweets. There may be disproportionate results because it is solely based on tweets and not taking into consideration the population that does not have a twitter account. E.G some of my family and their hateful words towards gay marriage. There is also an interactive version of this map to see OK and what the results are according to this data. 

rollfortreasure
rollfortreasure

@@devolverful so the US army sees things the same way? They've been using RED to distinguish enemy units and BLUE to show friendly units on maps. Allies were shown in GREEN. They have been doing this at least since WWII. Looks like your theory is falling apart.

SRosenberg203
SRosenberg203

@@devolverful I get your point, but Red has kind of been the universally recognized color representation of anger and violent emotions for hundreds and hundreds of years.

seanmasonmcdaniel
seanmasonmcdaniel

^ Meh mostly filter like most religious text. Have you a moment to speak about our Lord and savior Horus? He's like a long lost cousin of Jesus. Let me know if you require guidance on your journey to eternal life and forgiveness.

JimNasium946
JimNasium946

Well, she DID omit words offensive to white people.

ClarenceBodicker
ClarenceBodicker

@SRosenberg203 @@devolverful In the 50s, Joseph McCarthy (that wonderful, tolerant, accepting and open-minded conservative) adopted and popularized a phrase that holds SO true today -- "Better Dead Than Red".  What a visionary he was.