Understanding prejudice and racism online through search data

By Monday, May 7, 2012 2 No tags Permalink 0

In a recent paper by Seth I. Stephens-Davidowitz Google Search Data is used to assess how much racist-sentiment affected the 2008 vote. The method is interesting, and the outcome nothing short of sensational:

The results imply that, relative to the areas in the United States with the lowest racial animus, racial animus cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points of the national popular vote. This implies racial animus gave Obama’s opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide. The cost of racial animus was not decisive in the 2008 election. But a four percentage point loss by the winning candidate would have changed the popular vote winner in the majority of post-war presidential elections.

Now, read the paper for yourself and determine if you agree with the methodology or not, but it does look interesting. Ultimately it becomes a correlation/causation issue to some extent, but still – interesting.

The notion that we could track prejudice and racist sentiment like this seems to open for new ways to track the dark sides of society and perhaps bring our creativity to bear on the problem of how to counter the fear and ignorance that underpins the memes involved.