February 16, 2014 6:15 am -

angry twitter birdIt’s reassuring to know that as technology advances, individuals become more enlightened, tolerant, intelligent, and empathetic. If only it were so:

A British research organization trawled nine days of Twitter’s live feed looking to see just how people use racial slurs online.

Their results are counter-intuitive. While more than 14,000 messages a day typically have an identifiable racial slur, that’s less than one in 15,000 English-language messages, according to Demos’ Anti-Social Media study published this week.

The most common slur used: White boy.

Also common were “paki,” “whitey,” “pikey,” “nigga,” “spic,” “crow,” “squinty” and “wigga.” Roughly half of the instances involve the use of derogatory language “in a non-offensive, non-abusive manner, to express in-group solidarity or non-derogatory description,” Demos wrote. These top ten contained about 87 percent of racial slurs in the sample. “Relatively few tweets – from 500 to 2,000 per day – were directed at an individual and clearly abusive.”

Demos noted that racial abuse online is doubtlessly broader than the sample, since many people hurl racial invective without using obvious racial slurs. But if someone uses Twitter to call someone a racially-offensive name, in the public feed, in a way that is clearly abusive, it’s incredibly rare and probably notable since fewer than one in 75,000 messages contain language used that way.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.