Do Hateful Tweets Cause Crime?

student writing a tweet
Peer Advice & Teaching Tips
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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…?