Twitter Usage of the N-Word Spiked 316% Around Ferguson Ruling

Nov 25, 2014 at 3:33 PM ET

As you might have grasped from other stories coming out after the Grand Jury let Darren Wilson off the hook for shooting Michael Brown, people on social media can be pretty awful. But here we’ve mapped out a singular spike in awfulness.

Analysis gathered from a randomized survey of 10 percent of all Tweets shows that around the Grand Jury’s decision was announced at 9pm EST on Monday, use of perhaps the worst epithet in American history spiked 316 percent over its average usage in the four-day period beforehand.

Now, this graph does not account for context, only frequency. A quick review shows that many people protesting the decision and the treatment of African Americans may have well contributed to this significant spike. Several, for instance, spoke about how the first time they were called the n-word made them feel. As well, rapper Swiss released a new single whose title uses that particular word rather liberally — so there’s that.

Nonetheless, over 46% of all instances of the n-word were attached to the hashtag #Ferguson, so it was absolutely part of the national dialogue happening online. However it was being used and whoever was using it, the term crested at a singularly complex and disturbing moment when perhaps gentler speech was called for. In an ugly time, ugly words came out.