Content Analysis Is a Bitch

March 18, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Can Twitter tell us about the climate of intolerance? Do the words in all those tweets reveal something about levels of racism and sexism? Maybe. But the language of intolerance – “hate speech” – can be tricky to read.

Adobo is website for people seeking apartments – Zillow for renters – and it recently posted an article, “America’s Most P.C. and Prejudiced Places” (here), with maps and graphs of data from Twitter. Here, for example, are the cities with the highest rates of misogynistic tweets. 

Unfortunately, Abodo does not say which words are in its formula for “deragotory language against women.” But Abodo does recognize that bitch might be a problem because “it is commonly used as profanity but not always with sexist intent.”  Just to see what those uses might be, I searched for “bitch” on Twitter, but the results, if not overtly sexist, all referred to a female as a bitch.

Maybe it was New Orleans. I tried again adding “NOLA” as a search term and found one non-sexist bitch.

When Abodo ran their much larger database of tweets but excluded the word bitch from its misogyny algorithm, New Orleans dropped from first place to fourth, and Baton Rouge disappeared from the top ten. Several Northeast and Western cities now made the cut.

This tells us what we might have known if we’d been following Jack Grieve’s Twitter research (here) – that bitch is especially popular in the South.

The Twitter map of cunt is just the opposite. It appears far more frequently in tweets from the Northeast than from the South.

The bitch factor changes the estimated sexism of states as well as cities. Here are two maps, one with and one without bitch in its sexism screen.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

With bitch out of the equation, Louisiana looks much less nasty, and the other Southeast states also shade more towards the less sexist green. The Northeast and West, especially Nevada, now look more misogynistic. A few states remain nice no matter how you score the tweets – Montana, Wyoming, Vermont – but they are among the least populous states so even with Twitter data, sample size might be a problem. Also note that bitch accounts for most of what Abodo calls sexist language. Without bitch, the rates range from 26 to 133 per 100,000 tweets. Add bitch to the formula and the range moves to 74 to 894 per 100,000.  That means that at least two-thirds of all the “derogatory language against women” on Twitter is the word bitch.

There’s a further problem in using these tweets as an index of sexism. Apparently a lot of these bitch tweets are coming from women (if my small sample of tweets is at all representative). Does that mean that the word has lost some of its misogyny? Or, as I’m sure some will argue, do these tweets mean that women have become “self-hating”? This same question is raised, in spades, by the use of nigger. Abodo has data on that too, but I will leave it for another post.

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