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Twitter: Analyzing Hate in Unconventional Ways

Twitter: Analyzing Hate in Unconventional Ways

In Crossing Boundaries: Using GIS in Literary Studies, History and Beyond, the authors discuss the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in both historical research and now in a broader span of humanities disciplines. Part of this discussion is how this can make “new and substantive contributions to knowledge across humanities disciplines”. Maps allow us to look at a dataset in varying ways, and can lead to new assessments and interpretations of that data.

The Geography of Hate map provides an example of the use of maps and geography as applied to other humanities studies, such as the study of hate speech. This is an interesting question which is not often asked: Where is hate located? Obviously, and unfortunately, it is a very widespread problem. However, is it concentrated in certain areas? Are there certain common characteristics found within these areas? This is knowledge which is a necessary prerequisite to better educating those using hate speech.

To do this, a group at Humboldt State University used every single geotagged tweet from June 2012 to April 2013 that contained hate words in order to create determine the “Geography of Hate”. As part of this, they looked for keywords deemed to be hate words, and then classified it as positive, neutral or negative. While this project alone sends a powerful message, I am interested in ways that could extend beyond this. I would argue, and I believe most would agree, that a tweet could be homophobic or racist without the use of one of these keywords. Is it even possible to determine the true amount of hate speech on twitter?

Along with that, should Twitter have an ethical obligation to moderate this hate speech? I would argue that they freely allow people to use homophobic and racist language. While I do not typically support censorship, perhaps they should implement some form of filter to allow people to choose not to see tweets using hate speech. In many ways, this map creates more questions than it answers, which I believe only highlights the ability of a medium such as a GIS to lead to new branches of inquiry within humanities discourses. 

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