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Using artificial intelligence and archival news articles, a teenager in Northern Virginia created a program to measure media biases – and in researching older news articles, she discovered that Black homicide victims were less likely to be humanized in news coverage.

Emily Ocasio, an 18-year-old from Falls Church, Virginia, crafted an AI program which analyzed FBI homicide records between 1976 and 1984 and their corresponding coverage published in The Boston Globe to determine whether victims were presented in a humanizing or impersonal manner. 

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Ocasio says media humanization is measured by presenting victims “as a person, not just a statistic”

Black girls and women go missing, are trafficked, and suspiciously die at alarming rates, but it isn’t often reflected in national news coverage of such cases.  

Tragic stories such as Shanquella Robinson’s often come and go without the constant and humane media coverage of a White woman killed under the same mysterious circumstances would receive.

After analyzing 5,042 entries, the results showed that Black men under the age of 18 were 30% less likely to receive humanizing coverage than their White counterparts, Ocasio told CNN. Black women were 23% less likely to be humanized in news stories, Ocasio added.

A news article was considered humanizing when it mentioned additional information about the victim and presented them “as a person, not just a statistic,” Ocasio said in her project presentation. 

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Ocasio’s project earned her second place in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search on March 14 as well as a $175,000 scholarship, according to CNN.

“By using AI to document these biases, Emily shows that it can be safely used to help society answer complex social science questions,” her biography on the Society for Science website says.

Ocasio analyzed The Boston Globe’s news coverage because the newspaper had digital copies of its articles for the ’70s to ‘80s time period she focused on for her project, she said.

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Despite her findings, Ocasio believes science can’t explain everything: “You can never run an experiment in a lab that tells you about how racism works in society.”

Ocasio, who has Puerto Rican heritage, said her own experiences helped shape her perspective of different races and cultures, and drew her to researching racism and inequalities. She wants to replicate her research to analyze other news media outlets as well, she said.

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