Researchers revealed the most common racial slurs used on the micro-blogging site included: ‘paki’, ‘whitey’ and ‘pikey’.
However, as many as 70% of tweets using such language were deemed to be using slurs in non-derogatory fashion – often to describe themselves or their own community - sparking debate about the extent to which Twitter truly is a platform for racism and abusive language.
A total of 126,975 English-language tweets from across the globe were analysed over a 9-day period by CASM, Demos’ social media research unit, as part of the project.
Analysis suggests only 1% of tweets used a racial slur in an ideological context within a political statement or in a call to action in the real world. Further analysis found that as few as 500 tweets a day were directed at an individual and appeared on first sight to be abusive.
You are what you tweet
The Anti-Social Media report estimates between 50-70% of tweets were used to express in-group solidarity with “re-claimed” slurs used within ethnic groups. It cites “Paki” as one term becoming appropriated by users identifying themselves of Pakistani descent.
Last year also saw much debate over use of the term ‘Yid army’ by supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, a football club with a strong historical connection to London’s Jewish community, to describe themselves.
This research comes as Twitter is being increasingly criticised as a platform for racism. High-profile cases such as that involving ex-footballer Stan Collymore and journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez have led to the introduction and sustained support of a ‘report abuse’ button on the website.
In December, Labour MP Jack Dromey also caused uproar by referring to his postman as ‘Pikey’ in a tweet. Dromey responded to criticism by explaining that the nickname derived from Corporal Pike, a character in TV show Dad’s Army, demonstrating the potential for racial slurs deemed offensive to be intended non-offensively.
Jamie Bartlett, Director of CASM at Demos and author of the report, said:
“Twitter provides us with a remarkable window into how people talk, argue, debate, and discuss issues of the day.
“While there are a lot of racial slurs being used on Twitter, the overwhelming majority of them are not used in an obviously prejudicial or hateful way.
“This study shows just how difficult it is to know what people really mean on the basis of a tweet. Context is king, and often it’s more or less lost on Twitter.'
NOTES TO EDITORS
The report ‘Anti-Social Media’, was written by Jamie Bartlett and Jeremy Reffin, and published by Demos on 7 February 2014.
Additional research was carried out by Noelle Rumball and Sarah Williamson.
In total, 126,975 tweets were collected over a nine day period (19 November – 27 November 2012): an average of 14,100 tweets per day – all publicly available through Twitter at time of posting.
Full table illustrating frequency of slurs (% = as a percentage of all tweets containing racial slurs)