Social media gives us a peek into all sorts of things, including the geography of haters. Yes, a Humboldt State University professor and her team of undergraduate researchers aggregated 150,000 hate language tweets over a period of 11 months and mapped them. It certainly looks like fire and brimstone are raining down all across the Bible belt to me.
The idea behind the mapping was to test for geographic relationships to hate language. Tweets of highly offensive homophobic, racist, and disability terms were collected from geocoded tweets and then plotted on a map using the Google Maps API.
Although the data looks damning, it gets a little more murky when taken within its context. The haters’ tweets were culled from Twitter users who were both active and had geotagging enabled. That only accounts for slightly more than 1 percent of Twitter users. They also had to be willing to engage in hate speech publically. While the geography is close, more technology must be used to pinpoint locations more accurately.
Regardless, it is very disturbing to see that hate speech is still very prevalent. It’s also distressing to see where the geography of haters are the most dense. When you also factor in those geographic pockets where the voting rights, marriage equality, women’s rights, racial equality, and immigration reform are most challenged, you can’t help but notice a geographic overlap.
More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…
No doubt he had the passage from Matthew in mind:
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Jesus rebuked his follower who unsheathed his sword in an effort to protect Jesus from being arrested).
What if the forces of hate were met with the power of love over Twitter? Instead of fire and brimstone would we see pink sparkles and unicorns? Is it possible that the Bible belt would morph from the geography of haters to the bastion of love? Now that would be something to behold!