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U of M study finds link between growth of internet access, racial hate crimes

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University of Minnesota research found a link between a rise in racial hate crimes and the growth of broadband availability in the past 15 years.

A study by Professor Jason Chan, of the Carlson School of Management, and two NYU Stern professors looked into racial hate crimes carried out by "lone wolf" perpetrators in the U.S. between 2001 and 2008.

It found that in areas of particularly high racial tensions (where there is notable segregation and a high number of "racially-charged" search terms used), increased internet availability was followed by a rise in racially-motivated crimes, with the addition of one extra broadband provider increasing crimes by as much as 20 percent.

But it notes that this was not "uniform" across the U.S., saying that the impact of broadband access was less pronounced in areas with fewer tensions.

Nonetheless, it contends that adding one more broadband provider in every county in the U.S. would have contributed to 865 more race hate crimes every year.

Why is this the case?

According to Professor Chan, increased internet access between 2001 and 2008 gave people living in places that historically have higher levels of racism a new outlet for their views.

While it had limited impact on a growth in the creation of offline hate groups, the internet "enhanced the efficiency with which extremists could spread hate ideology, and spur like-minded individuals to carry out lone-wolf attacks."

"The likely reason behind this is the Internet facilitates this specialization of interest," Professor Chan says. "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."

To counter this, the study says that more digital media, anti-racism and social justice studies should be incorporated into school curricula, rather than "engaging in a technological rat race with extremists."

The researchers used data from the FBI, Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to carry out the study.

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