North Dakotans Are Racist Tweeters?

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According to this report from Fargo Forum reporter Marrino Eccher, North Dakotans get racist when they get on Twitter.

FARGO, N.D. — A small but vocal group of disgruntled North Dakotans took to the Web after last week’s election to put the state on the map in an ugly way.

According to a group of researchers who crunch online geographic data, the state was among the national leaders in the rate of racist messages on Twitter posted before and after President Barack Obama’s re-election.

The good news is that there weren’t all that many racist tweets thrown out there. The analysis, published by the group Floatingsheep, found just 395 tweets from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7 that included references to Obama or the election as well as one of two explicit racial slurs.

That’s a sliver of the 31 million tweets posted on Election Day alone, although the study only looked at the 1 percent to 5 percent of tweets that have geographic data attached.

Here’s the problem: There just aren’t that many people who use Twitter here in ND. I work a lot in the realm of social media. While Twitter has gotten really, really big in other parts of the country, Twitter hasn’t. There are plenty of users, to be sure, but the fact that they were able to find less than 400 Tweets qualifying for their study tells us something.

Facebook seems to be the social media platform of choice for most North Dakotans. At least in my experience.

Anyway, we’re talking about a very, very small sample. Something the authors of this study admit:

In his published analysis of the data, Matthew Zook of Floatingsheep wrote that North Dakota and Minnesota were among high-ranking states that had a relatively small number of racist tweets. He said their rankings were driven in part by low overall Twitter activity, as the scores compared the share of each state’s racist election-related tweets to its overall volume of tweeting.

In other words, North Dakota ranks high in racist Tweeting not so much because we actually have a lot of actual racist Tweeting going on but because the sample size is small and easily skewed.

Which makes me wonder why, exactly, this is news? Other than it upholds certain stereotypes, held by our friends on the left, about rural states like North Dakota being full of racists, that is.

This is a deeply flawed study, and reporting its finding does a real disservice to the state. Shame on the Forum for running this story.

Update: A reader asks when we’re going to get a study about hateful tweets aimed at Mitt Romney.

We won’t, because while that’s still hate, it’s not racism. So it’s different, or something.

Update: Here’s a map plotting the racist tweets (click for an interactive version). As you can see, it looks like all the racism on Twitter from North Dakotans came from what appears to be the Minot area. Which makes me believe that the “racism” accusation is based on a few tweets from a small number of individuals.

That this crap “study” is being reported is a joke.

Update: Per the comments, the sample for this “study” was exactly 395 tweets nation wide. I’ve emailed the group responsible to find out how many tweets actually came from North Dakota.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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