Eggheads have found a positive link between the number of racist tweets and the number of racist hate crimes in US cities

Ahem, correlation DOES NOT imply causation. Obviously...


Analysis If you live in a city where people are more likely to make racist remarks on Twitter, there's apparently a high chance that there are increased rates of racially motivated hate crimes, too.

A paper (PDF) describing the finding was recently presented at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference on Web and Social Media in Germany this month. The researchers from New York University found the correlation between the number of inflammatory tweets and the number of hate crimes across 100 US cities.

First, the team used Twitter’s Streaming API to obtain 1 per cent of tweets made between 2011 and 2016. They filtered the tweets by place to check the location of where the tweet was posted from. Information about its contents, time-stamp, and the username were also scraped to create a labelled dataset of 532 million tweets.

Next, they trained "shallow neural networks" to classify and divide the tweets into two groups: "targeted racism" or "self-narration of racism experience". The first group describes messages that are directly discriminatory and attacked a specific race, and the second group are merely comments on racist remarks. A tweet that contains a racial slur, for example, isn't always hostile.

Twitter logo

Boffins laugh in the face of Twitter's API limits. Now they can slurp info to their hearts' content

READ MORE

A total of 16,000 tweets were used to train the model. Human annotators employed by Figure Eight, a machine learning startup based in San Francisco, manually labelled 1,698 tweets as "discrimination" and 14,302 as "non-discrimination". The researchers defined a discriminatory tweet "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."

When the 532 million tweets were fed as input to the neural network, the team collected ones that were tagged as "targeted discrimination". They then compared this data with the total number of hate crimes reported in 100 US cities as reported by the FBI using regression modelling.

"We found that more targeted, discriminatory tweets posted in a city related to a higher number of hate crimes," said Rumi Chunara, an assistant professor at NYU who led the study. "This trend across different types of cities - for example, urban, rural, large, and small - confirms the need to more specifically study how different types of discriminatory speech online may contribute to consequences in the physical world."

A few outliers

The trend isn't clear for all cities, however. There are a few outliers, such as Castleton, a town in Vermont, and Montpellier, a city in Idaho. Castleton reported the lowest number of racially motivated hate crimes, but ranked 17th in posting the highest proportion of racist tweets. Montpellier is 19th lowest in terms of racist crimes, but fifth in number of racist tweets.

"It's hard to compare the pairs of numbers of discriminatory tweets to hate crimes for individual cities. But it's worth noting that the regression results, the proportion of discrimination tweets that are targeted in relation to hate crimes, was significant when we included those outlier cities and also excluded them," Chunara told The Register.

"It's important to note that reporting requirements for hate crimes are not standardised by city, which is one reason why we may have these outlier cities. We did look into it and the outlier cities cited are known to have an extremely high number of hate crimes reported in general, and that could be for a variety of reasons such as different reporting practices by the public or police."

The researchers are also quick to point out that although there seems to be a pattern between the number of racist tweets and the number of hate crimes across US cities, there is no causal link.

"We stress that while our work makes no causal claims directly between discussion on social media and crimes, findings from this study are pertinent for better discrimination surveillance and mitigation efforts," according to the paper.

The researchers hope to continue studying how discrimination in online communities relates to the real world. "We recently got a research award from Facebook that will enable us to continue our work looking at the downstream effects of online discrimination. This is important given that one of our main findings is that the types of online discrimination and their potential relation to offline events are complex," Chunara concluded. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022