When temperatures rise, so do hateful tweets, according to a new study. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
A recent study has found a link between outdoor temperatures and the prevalence of hate speech on social media, which may, in turn, impact mental health.
The findings were originally published in the medical and health news outlet Medical Xpress before the study was published in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Planetary Health this month, and it found that people post more hateful tweets when the temperature rises above or dips below a "feel good" range.
Researchers used artificial intelligence to identify roughly 75 million English-phrased hate tweets in a data set of more than 4 billion tweets posted in the United States between 2014 and 2020. The authors then analyzed how the number of hate tweets changed as local temperatures changed.
To guide the study, researchers relied on the official U.N. definition of hate speech: cases of discriminatory language with reference to a person or group on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factors.
Overall, the study found that hateful tweets increased with higher and lower temperatures outside a specific comfort zone, but especially in warmer weather.
"We see that outside the feel-good window of 12-21 degrees C (54-70 degrees F), online hate increases up to 12% for colder temperatures and up to 22% for hotter temperatures across the U.S.," Annika Stechemesser, a Potsdam Institute scientist and author of the study, told Medical Xpress.
In addition to this, temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit are consistently linked to strong increases in online hate across all climate zones and socioeconomic differences such as income, religious beliefs and political preferences. The researchers found the lowest volume of hateful tweets occurred when temperatures ranged from 59 to 65 degrees F.
"People tend to show a more aggressive online behavior when it's either too cold or too hot outside," Stechemesser said. And this was a trend that defied air conditioning.
"Even in high-income areas where people can afford air condition[ing] and other heat mitigation options, we observe an increase in hate speech on extremely hot days. In other words: There is a limit to what people can take," co-author Anders Levermann told Medical Xpress. "Thus, there are likely limits of adaptation to extreme temperatures and these are lower than those set by our mere physiological limits."
Using this newfound link, the authors turned their attention toward concern about how this might contribute to the impacts of climate change on mental health, especially among young people and marginalized groups.
Leonie Wenz, the working group leader at the Potsdam Institute who led the study, explained that the results highlighted online hate speech as another way that climate change could affect "overall societal cohesion" and people's mental health.
"So that means that curbing emissions very rapidly and drastically will not only benefit the outer world," she said. "Protecting our climate from excessive global warming is also critical to our mental health."