(This was written by my niece Bernadette Wilson Conley. She has a Masters is Sociology from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She asked if I would share this with you.)
The Time.com website recently published an article including a map of, what researchers described as, "The Geography of U.S. Hate." It was intended to show where "homophobes and racists live in the U.S." based on hate speech filled Tweets.
As I quickly glanced at the map, I began to wonder about the methodology. Further exploration shows several flaws in the premise behind this piece of social science research. The researchers didn't measure hate speech in the U.S. They measured hate speech on Twitter, and even that was done poorly. (Original article link: http://newsfeed.time.com/...)
Twitter and Tweets are a very inaccurate measure of hate speech in the U.S., or of any aspect of the U.S. population at large. I learned, with a short amount of research, that only about 18% of the U.S. population uses Twitter each month. Users are disproportionately under 30 and live in large cities - both compared to the U.S. population at large and the majority of U.S. 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 U.S. population.
The researchers didn't measure hate speech in the U.S. Instead, they measured Twitter popularity in the U.S. based on total number of Tweets and then adjusted the numbers down to show hate speech on the medium. If the researchers were determined to use Twitter as a tool for measuring hate speech in the U.S., they could have sorted the Tweets by user and area, tagged which users posted hate speech in Tweets during a specified time period (limiting the influence of single high volume users), and produced a map showing % of Twitter Users with Hate Speech Posts. Even then, the proper label for the map would be "The Geography of Hate Speech on Twitter in the U.S."
If you want to see a Map of Hate in the U.S., try checking out Southern Poverty Law Center's website, which shows active hate groups in the U.S. (Link here: www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map). An even better map would be produced if researchers could record and show where hate crimes have been committed - though there would still need to be a disclaimer of variability due both to differences in local laws and the willingness of local authorities to prosecute.