Researchers: Extreme temperatures are fueling online hate

Online hate speech rises in temperatures below 12 degrees and above 21 degrees. This is what German researchers concluded in The Lancet Planetary Health. Lancet Health Planet After analyzing more than four billion tweets in the United States. “People tend to be more aggressive online when it’s too cold or too hot outside,” says German researcher Annika Stechemesser.

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research used artificial intelligence to detect 75 million hate tweets in a data set of more than 4 billion messages posted in the United States between 2014 and 2020. They then analyzed how the number of hate messages changed with an increase or decrease in local temperature. . In temperatures below 12 degrees, online hate increases to 12 percent, and above 21 degrees rises to 22 percent.

Heat contact and aggression

“Protecting our climate from global warming is also of critical importance to our mental health,” Stechemesser says. Emeritus lecturer in mental health care at Leiden University, Jaap van der Stel, confirms this “warning” from the researchers: “This study confirms that the climate crisis is not just a physical issue, but can also lead to a psychological crisis.”

According to researchers, online hate can exacerbate mental health problems, especially among young people and marginalized groups. It has been known for some time that there is a relationship between heat and aggressive behavior. But the effect of outdoor temperature on online hate in the United States has not been studied before, according to the researchers. However, they did point out a similar study that found an association between temperature and racism online in Europe.

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Researchers talk about a causal relationship between temperature and online hate, but at the same time recognize that temperature is only one of the factors that explains online hate speech.

At temperatures above 30 degrees, researchers found a “strong increase” in online hate across all climate zones and socioeconomic groups. “Even in high-income areas where people can afford air conditioning, we see an increase in hate speech on very hot days,” says Annika Stechemesser. It is clear that the human ability to adapt to high temperatures is limited, says the researcher.

contagious behavior

Professor Emeritus van der Stel also sees another explanation for this strong increase. It is, of course, a social medium (Twitter), through which people also communicate with other parts of the United States. Now human behavior is very “contagious” and people in a pleasant temperature can also react more aggressively to people in heat.”

Researcher Stechemesser hopes that a debate will erupt about the consequences of climate change on people’s mental health. She herself wants to do more research on who these online hate-mongers are and who they target. “In general, we are trying to get a better picture of the impact of climate change on society.”

Van der Stel, who has been working in mental health related to the climate crisis for many years, calls on researchers to investigate the mechanisms behind this problem: “Don’t limit yourself to your own field. See also sociology, psychology, and neuroscience.”

Megan Vasquez

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