- Twitter has been widely criticized for failing to curb hate speech, harassment, and abuse.
- A recent study out of NYU found a correlation between the number of racist tweets and the amount of racially motivated hate crimes reported in 100 cities across the US.
- The study focused on "race, ethnicity and national-origin based" discrimination; hate speech related to gender, sexuality, and other minorities was not analyzed.
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A recent study has found a connection in 100 US cities between the number of real-life racially motivated hate crimes and the amount of racist messages posted on Twitter.
Researchers at NYU analyzed more than half a billion tweets out of 100 cities across the US — from major metropolises to rural towns — between 2011 and 2016. They found that the amount of tweets containing targeted racism out of many cities correlated with the number of racially motivated hate crimes that were reported in those same areas.
"I think there’s a sentiment in the targeted tweets that is likely related to fostering an environment for these crimes," researcher Rumi Chunara told Motherboard. "Meanwhile, having productive conversation might actually improve culture and outcomes."
In the study, researchers sorted out tweets mentioning racism into two categories: self-narrative tweets that describe comments on discriminatory behavior, and targeted ones that are "against a person, property, or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against race, ethnicity or national origin." Machine learning was used to filter out posts containing self-narration, and only focus on targeted tweets — those made both in reference to an individual or a group of people.
The researchers are sure to point out that while the study doesn’t necessarily find a causal relationship between racist tweets and real-life hate crimes, they did find a correlation between the two. Acknowledging the link between online and offline behaviors could be "pertinent for better discrimination surveillance and mitigation efforts," the researches said in their conclusions.
Twitter did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the study’s findings.
Twitter, among other social media platforms, has faced riticism for failing to take action to curb abuse and hate speech. Twitter currently uses human moderators to go after white supremacists and white nationalists, but is reportedly refusing to use AI technology to crack down because it would bar the accounts of some Republican politicians.
A British journalist known for breaking news of the Cambridge Analytics scandal recently called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for being "handmaidens to authoritarianism."
Even Dorsey has acknowledged that Twitter’s current system "makes it super easy to harass and abuse others."
It’s important to note that the NYU study deals with a five-year period through 2016, before President Donald Trump officially took office. Hate crimes have surged in the years since Trump took office, FBI hate crime data shows.
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