Google searches may be able to identify patterns in black mortality rates across the US, according to new research.
Academics at the University of Maryland found that areas with higher searches for the n-word had higher mortality rates among black people.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, is thought to be the first to link "racist" internet search terms with mortality rates.
Research suggests that racism is a major culprit that contributes to the gap in mortality between blacks and whites.
- David H Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Maryland
The researchers explain that previous studies looking at the link between racism and mortality rates have been flawed because they rely on people self-reporting if they've been the victims of racism - an act or sentiment that is often not shown overtly.
Such internet query-based measures may be less susceptible to self-censorship of socially unacceptable attitudes. They may also reflect those instances of racism that are covert or hidden.
- David H Chae
The research did not take into account searches of the n-word that ended with -a or -as, as they deemed that these are often used in a non-racist context.
It also acknowledged that not all searches for the n-word would be related to racism, merely that geographic locations with higher searches for the term would have higher levels of racism overall.
The researchers found that high levels of racism, which they term a "social toxin", had an effect on death rates from heart disease, cancer, and stroke through disparities in healthcare as well as an effect on mental and physical well-being.
A similar study, involving Twitter, predicted with 75 per cent accuracy how many asthma-related visits a hospital could expect on any given day.