Researchers from the University of Minnesota and New York University found that broadband availability increased the incidence of racial hate crimes committed by lone-wolf perpetrators in the United States during the period 2001-2008. The addition of a single broadband provider led to as much as a 20 percent rise in racial hate crimes in areas where racial tensions were especially high.
“The positive relationship between broadband providers and the number of hate crimes is mainly found in places that have high levels of racism,” researcher Jason Chan from the University of Minnesota said in a statement. “The likely reason behind this is the Internet facilitates this specialization of interest. That is to say users will search out content online that is congruent to their beliefs or preferences and are not as likely to look up content that is counter to what they believe in.”
For the study, researchers sourced data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to FBI data, almost two-thirds of reported hate crimes arose from racial bias, making it by far the most typical form of bias-motivated crime in the United States.
They found that an increase in the number of broadband providers led to an increase in racial hate crimes, particularly among lone-wolf perpetrators. Their analysis also revealed that the addition of one broadband provider in every county in the United States would have caused 865 additional incidences of racially driven crimes on an annual basis.
“Yet the Internet’s impact on hate crime was not uniform and was predominantly present in areas with higher levels of racism, identified by the amount of racial segregation present and the proportion of racially charged search terms used,” researchers said.
They also found that although greater Internet access did not cause an increase in the formation of off-line hate groups, it may have enhanced the efficiency with which extremists could spread hate ideology and spur like-minded individuals to carry out lone-wolf attack
“Technologically driven solutions fall short in addressing an issue that is inherently social in nature,” Professor Anindya Ghose said in a statement. “Instead of engaging in a technological rat race with extremists, we should consider incorporating critical literacies – including digital media, anti-racism and social justice – into school curricula as an alternative strategy.”