Social media is in the grip of a worsening racism epidemic that threatens to impact on the future of race relations in real society, a jaw-dropping new study reveals.
Mirror Online has been given exclusive access to research which demonstrates the horrifying extent of online racism and poses serious questions about how technology is affecting the fabric of our multicultural society.
Among the findings revealed are the facts that:
The study is conducted by the think tank Demos, which spent two weeks in September analysing every single racist tweet sent in the world, recording a massive 6,777,955 “slurs” during the course of the study.
Researchers first performed a ground-breaking assessment of Twitter racism two years ago, when the top term of abuse was “whitey”.
But now Mirror Online can reveal the most popular race-related term is “nigga”, which is commonly used by racists and non-bigots alike.
There has also been an increase in the sheer amount of abuse, which appears to be gaining a sort of respectability, with members of certain racial groups often using previously taboo terms to describe themselves.
During the study two years ago, Demos recorded about 10,000 racist tweets a day, but that has now increased to 484,139 each day – an increase which appears to be largely driven by the surging popularity of the word “nigga”.
“Words which were previously being used to injure people have in many instances simply become part of the language for users on Twitter,” said Josh Smith, an associate at the Demos Centre for the Analysis of Social Media.
He said words which were once totally unacceptable are now being commonly used online, often in unexpected ways.
“While in some cases these slurs are undoubtedly being used to injure or offend, their increased use over the last few years is likely to tell us more about the changing use and meaning of language,” he continued.
Twitter allowed people to experiment with “taboo terms” away from the gaze of old-fashioned society, which can allow racists to spread their bile, but also allow groups to describe themselves using words which were once used to insult them.
A Twitter search for the word “Paki”, for instance, reveals young people using it to describe their own racial background, as well as a flurry of tweets from traditional bigots.
One young girl, for instance, described herself as “your favourite Paki”.
The word “nigga” is often used quite differently from “nigger”, with black people often using using the former in a friendly way and racists using the more traditional spelling to reflect some very backwards attitudes.
We showed the figures to Fiyaz Mughal, head of Faith Matters and Tell Mama UK, which records cases of Islamophobia both online and in the real world.
“Online racism is evident in the social media sphere and is quite open,” he said.
“Sometimes, this is mixed in with anti-Asian, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment so people will be racially and religious bigoted in the same statement.
“It seems that sitting behind a computer and being able to project a voice into cyberspace, makes people voice some of their deepest and darkest concerns and this is troubling given vulnerable young people out there who can believe such rhetoric.”
He said online racism could often fuel problems in society, suggesting the surge in hate speech which followed the murder of Lee Rigby prompted a “huge rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents and attacks” including assaults on mosques .
“Some members of black and minority ethnic communities that we talk to say that it feels that decades of anti-racist work has fallen back and that terms being used were around in the 70’s and 80’s,” he added.
“This is extremely concerning and will have impacts for race and community relations in the future.