May 14, 2017

America's dividing line on racist Google searches

Jens Meyer/AP

The country's racism divide is not between the North and South, but rather East and West, according to Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz who spoke on a recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast. The dividing line is the Mississippi River, according to Stephens-Davidowitz — racist Google searches are significantly less common west of the river.

What they're saying: He found "hate-searching" was alarmingly high in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, Michigan, and Upstate New York, while still most common in West Virginia. Notably, he also saw a correlation between increased news coverage of African-Americans and users searching for racial slurs: he found an increase in racist searches after Hurricane Katrina and every year on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Another example: After Barack Obama's presidential win in 2008, one in 100 Google searches for "Obama" also included "KKK" or the N-word.

Why it matters: Stephens-Davidowitz believes that despite our daily, outward behaviors, internet searches tell the story of who we really are.

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