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Anti-Social Media: Study Finds Racist Tweets Are Sent This Many Times a Day

An in-depth dive by a British think tank finds it's not how many times a day or how many times an hour racist tweets are sent, it's more like how many a minute. We look at just how often and what the most common derogatory terms used are.

Photo by Shutterstock

By Chris Hoenig

Photo by Shutterstock

Racist and derogatory messages are posted on Twitter at a rate of about 10,000 tweets per day, or roughly seven tweets every minute, according to a report from a British think tank.

More tellingly, however, researchers at Demos found that slurs and other seemingly racially charged terms are being thrown about in an increasingly casual manner on social media. Of the 10,000 racist tweets sent per day, upward of 70 percent of them were sent in a fashion not intended to be derogatory or abusive. In the end, between 500–2,000 tweets per day are directed at an individual in an abusive manner—a rate of somewhere between one tweet every 45 seconds and one every three minutes.

The most common term, used in more than 48 percent of all the tweets, was "white boy." But this is one of the primary examples of a phrase that wasn't always used in a derogatory or racially charged manner, with Wild Cherry's 1976 hit song "Play That Funky Music" being cited as an example.

Researchers found that at least half of the slurs tweeted were "appropriated," meaning they were most commonly used by the groups they were originally meant to insult. A prime example of that, the N-word, was the sixth-most-common slur in the study, appearing in about 3.2 percent of tweets. Another slur, appropriated by people of Pakistani descent, was the second-most commonly found term, showing up in nearly 12 percent of all the offending tweets.

"While there are a lot of racial slurs being used on Twitter, the overwhelming majority of them are not used in an obviously prejudicial or hateful way," according to study author Jamie Bartlett. "Twitter provides us with a remarkable window into how people talk, argue, debate and discuss issues of the day.

"This sparks the debate about the extent to which Twitter truly is a platform for racism and abusive language."

The researchers looked at more than 125,000 English-language tweets over a nine-day period as part of the study. They found that as few as 100 tweets each day—one every 15 minutes—contained language that could be interpreted as threatening violence or offline action. Also buried in the study was the note that there were abusive tweets that went uncounted in this research because they offended people without including slurs. "Language does not require the use of slurs in order to be hateful," Bartlett's team wrote.

"This study shows just how difficult it is to know what people really mean on the basis of a tweet," Bartlett said, highlighting one of the dangers of social media. "Context is king, and often it's more or less lost on Twitter."

A Twitter spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the company does not "screen content or remove potentially offensive content."

"Targeted abuse and specific threats of violence are violations of our rules, and users can report this type of content from within the Twitter application or at this link on our website," the spokesperson said.

"Twitter is a social broadcast network that enables people and organizations to publicly share brief messages instantly around the world. This brings a variety of users with different voices, ideas and perspectives. Users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, as long as they're not violating the Twitter Rules."

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