The Rise of Hate Search

Evan Soltas Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, New York Times, December 12, 2015

Hours after the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2, and minutes after the media first reported that at least one of the shooters had a Muslim-sounding name, a disturbing number of Californians had decided what they wanted to do with Muslims: kill them.

The top Google search in California with the word “Muslims” in it was “kill Muslims.” And the rest of America searched for the phrase “kill Muslims” with about the same frequency that they searched for “martini recipe,” “migraine symptoms” and “Cowboys roster.”

People often have vicious thoughts. Sometimes they share them on Google. Do these thoughts matter?

Yes. Using weekly data from 2004 to 2013, we found a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

We measured Islamophobic sentiment by using common Google searches that imply hateful attitudes toward Muslims. A search for “are all Muslims terrorists?” for example leaves little to the imagination about what the searcher really thinks. Searches for “I hate Muslims” are even clearer.

When Islamophobic searches are at their highest levels, such as during the controversy over the “ground zero mosque” in 2010 or around the anniversary of 9/11, hate crimes tend to be at their highest levels, too.

In 2014, according to the F.B.I., anti-Muslim hate crimes represented 16.3 percent of the total of 1,092 reported offenses motivated by religious bias. Anti-Semitism still led the way as a motive for these crimes, at 58.2 percent.


{snip} Although it will take awhile for the F.B.I. to collect and analyze the data before we know whether anti-Muslim hate crimes are in fact rising spectacularly now, Islamophobic searches in the United States were 10 times higher the week after the Paris attacks than the week before. They have been elevated since then and rose again after the San Bernardino attack.


In November, there were about 3,600 searches in the United States for “I hate Muslims” and about 2,400 for “kill Muslims.” {snip}


Searches for information about Islam and Muslims did rise after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Yet they rose far less than searches for hate did. “Who is Muhammad?” “what do Muslims believe?” and “what does the Quran say?” for instance, were no match for intolerance. In the days following the San Bernardino attacks, for every American concerned with “Islamophobia,” another was searching for “kill Muslims.” While hate searches were about 20 percent of all top searches about Muslims before the attack, more than half of all search volume about Muslims became hateful in the hours that followed it.

It is not just that hatred against Muslims is extremely high today. It’s that it’s exceptional compared with prejudice against every other group in the United States.

We examined prejudicial searches against black people, white people, gay people, Asians, Jews, Mexicans and Christians. We estimate that negative attitudes against Muslims today are higher than prejudice against any group in any month since 2004, when Google began preserving detailed data on search volumes.


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