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Do Hateful Tweets Cause Crime?
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Your students may be wondering whether hateful tweets can increase crime. Recent research shows that there is a correlation. A study from Cornell University demonstrated this connection. Researchers examined examined over 500 million tweets between 2011 and 2016 (if you're wondering how they could look at 500 million tweets, you'll be relieved to know that they didn't - some artificial intelligence was brought in to help out).


They first classified tweets into two groups: "targeted" and "self-narration".


Targeted tweets were defined as:


...a Tweet against a person, property, or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against race, ethnicity or national origin.


Self-narration tweets were defined as containing


...any of the first person pronouns: I, me, mine, my, we, us, our, ours.... we also required an absolute majority of number of first-person pronouns over number of second and third-person pronouns.

Self-narration tweets were tweets in which the person describes or reflects on discrimination and hate crimes.


The result?


We found that more targeted, discriminatory tweets posted in a city related to a higher number of hate crimes....There was a negative relationship between the proportion of race/ethnicity/national-origin-based discrimination tweets that were self-narrations of experiences and the number of crimes

If you're interested in asking your students about correlations, the one between targeted tweets and hate crimes is positive, while the correlation between self-narrative tweets and hate crimes is negative.


Of course, the causality here is hard to identify (Do targeted tweets cause crime? Or does hate crime result in targeted tweets?) but a good discussion could come from whether or not the correlations are useful.


  1. Is it worthwhile to keep an eye on tweets of this kind?
  2. What should you do if you notice an increase?
  3. Might this be a  new tool in crime prevention...?


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  1. Hate speech on Twitter predicts frequency of real-life hate crimes
  2. Race, Ethnicity and National Origin-based Discrimination in Social Media and Hate Crimes Across 100 ...


1 Comment

First--I think this is an EXCELLENT example to use in a methods course and begin the discussion of causality vs correlation. (I'm adding it to my Mindtap as we speak actually!)


I can see why we would look at this-- as researchers, this is a rather easy study to conduct but also it is something our students understand and relate to (much more than us really). So, it will grab the attention of students who "hate" research because they relate to it (who hasn't seen a hateful tweet, right?). BUT what is this research REALLY telling us? 


Personally, I think this is telling us that people feel more comfortable in projecting their hateful thoughts into the world more so than they have in a really, really long time. The internet adds that level of anonymity that can't be compared to much else (except maybe a white hood, but that wasn't even all that anonymous). At the same time, people are becoming more confident in posting these things we are also seeing hate crimes increase across the country (


So is it that the hateful speech is creating hate crimes? Or are more hate crimes causing people to become even more accepting of hate speech? There's a lot of ways this can go! But, all of this is a GREAT conversation on how correlation works BECAUSE a relationship is still important. We are adding to our body of knowledge and looking for what this relationship is and how it works. To me, that is just as important as finding out that one causes the other!