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Uncovering dehumanization with computational linguistics: a case study of LGBTQ representation in the New York Times

Julia Mendelsohn, PhD Student, School of Information, University of Michigan

Julia Mendelsohn (she/her)

Dehumanization is a pernicious psychological process that often leads to extreme intergroup bias, hate speech, and violence aimed at targeted social groups. Despite these serious consequences and the wealth of available data, dehumanization has not yet been computationally studied on a large scale. Drawing upon social psychological research and dehumanization theory, I create a computational linguistic framework for analyzing dehumanizing language by identifying linguistic correlates of salient components of dehumanization. I then apply this framework to analyze discussions of LGBTQ people in the New York Times from 1986 to 2015. Overall, I find increasingly humanizing descriptions of LGBTQ people over time. However, I find that the label homosexual has emerged to be much more strongly associated with dehumanizing attitudes than other labels, such as gay. The proposed techniques highlight processes of linguistic variation and change in discourses surrounding marginalized groups. Furthermore, the ability to analyze dehumanizing language at a large scale has implications for automatically detecting and understanding media bias as well as abusive language online.

the article that this talk is based off has been published and is available here: