Monday, December 14, 2015

Googling Hate

Evan Soltas and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz have a fascinating article in the Times looking into the connection between online searches and ethnic or religious hatred. Specifically, they look at how searches including the words "kill Muslims," "I hate Muslims," and so on have varied over time:
Using weekly data from 2004 to 2013, we found a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

We measured Islamophobic sentiment by using common Google searches that imply hateful attitudes toward Muslims. A search for “are all Muslims terrorists?” for example leaves little to the imagination about what the searcher really thinks. Searches for “I hate Muslims” are even clearer.

When Islamophobic searches are at their highest levels, such as during the controversy over the “ground zero mosque” in 2010 or around the anniversary of 9/11, hate crimes tend to be at their highest levels, too.
As to what can be done about this, well that turns out to be hard. First, there is no evidence that living or working with Muslims leads to more tolerance. Instead they find the opposite, that people who live in areas with more Muslims make more hateful searches. And what if the President spoke eloquently against hatred?
Mostly, we found that Mr. Obama’s well-meaning words fell on deaf ears. Overall, in fact, his speech provoked intolerance. The president said, “It is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” But searches calling Muslims “terrorists,” “bad,” “violent” and “evil” doubled during and shortly after his speech.

Mr. Obama also said, “It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.” But negative searches about Syrian refugees rose 60 percent. Searches asking how to help Syrian refugees dropped 35 percent. The president asked us to “not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.” But searches for “kill Muslims” tripled during his speech.
Actually this doesn't show anything about how the average listener reacted; many or even most listeners might have found the President reassuring. But those predisposed toward hate were only further inflamed.

There was a bright spot:
There was one line, however, that did trigger the type of response Mr. Obama might have wanted. He said, “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes and yes, they are our men and women in uniform, who are willing to die in defense of our country.”

After this line, for the first time in more than a year, the top Googled noun after “Muslim” was not “terrorists,” “extremists” or “refugees.” It was “athletes,” followed by “soldiers.” And, in fact, “athletes” kept the top spot for a full day afterward.
So the answer is more Muslim stars in the NBA!

Anyway, it is a fascinating look at our society and some new ways to study it.

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