Health

Severe weather could lead to more online hate speech: Study


Humans love their weather in the Goldilocks—a window of neither too hot nor too cold that affects not only our physical comfort but also our mood. During heat waves or deep freezes, temper tantrums, patience wears off, and behavior can be affected. The current, a new study In Lancet Planet Health, have found that this is true not only in our face-to-face interactions, but also online. As temperatures rise or fall above or below the comfort zone of 54ºF to 70ºF (12ºC to 21ºC), online hate speech in the United States — at least on Twitter — increases.

The team, led by Leonie Wenz, working group leader at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), delved into the online keynote to deliver their conclusions, starting by gathering more than 4 billion geolocation tweets are posted in the US. over a six-year period from May 2014 to May 2020. They programmed an artificial intelligence algorithm to scan tweets for hate speech, which, according to United Nations standards, they identified. defined as any communication that “attacks or uses language that is inciting or discriminatory concerning a person or group on the basis of… religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, etc. , origin, gender or other identifying factors. “

It’s a broad definition and the algorithm can sometimes get confused by it. While researchers can train programs to recognize hateful words and terms, some have multiple meanings. Notably, the software has to learn the meaning of the word N. For example, a variant of the word, ending in “-a,” has been “reused as a kind of endearment in some communities,” the authors write. In that case, they taught the software to look for words around “aggressive or offensive”.

Read more: Summers are getting uncomfortably hot before they even start

Overall, just over 75 million tweets — or 2% of a total of four billion over a six-year period — qualified as hate speech by the analysis algorithm. But exactly when the tweets appeared and where they came from can be very different. The study geolocated the source of hate speech tweets to 773 different US cities and cross-referenced that information with the temperatures in those places on the day the tweet was posted.

Overall, the study did not find that any city or region generated more hate tweets than any other city or region; The key variable they found was all about the thermometer. The fewest hate tweets occurred in the narrow six-degree temperature range of 59ºF to 65ºF (15ºC to 18ºC), within the defined broader comfort zone. Beyond that 54º F to 70º F sweet spot, things can be very different. For example, on extremely cold days – more common in the northern tier than elsewhere in the country – when temperatures range from 21ºF to 27ºF (-6ºC to -3ºC), hate tweets increase by 12, 5%. On extremely hot days — especially in the desert southwest — when temperatures peaked between 108ºF and 113ºF (42ºC to 45ºC) — phosphate tweets jumped 22%.

“Even in high-income areas where people can afford air conditioning and other devices,” said Anders Levermann, head of complex science at PIK and co-author of the study. In other heat mitigation projects, we noticed an increase in hate speech during extremely hot days. , in a statement accompanying its release. “There are likely limits of adaptation to extreme temperatures, and these are lower than those posed by our mere physiological limits.”

That’s not to say we weren’t adaptive at all. The study divided 773 cities from which the tweets originated into five different climates: cold, dry hot, mixed wet, hot and humid, and marine (or coastal). Overall, they found that the increase in hate tweets was diverse, such that those in the frigid regions — which cover most of the northern part of the 48 contiguous states — showed little wrongdoing. online during extremely cold times than people in hot and humid areas, who won’t be used to the sudden plunge of the thermometer.

“This may suggest that the increase in hate tweets depends on the temperature we are familiar with,” the authors write.

Read more: How Psychology Can Help Fight Climate Change — And Climate Anxiety

The study limitations did not allow the researchers to use geographic information to show any difference in tweeting about weather-related hate depending on socioeconomic status, faith, race, political party membership, or more. “Groups based on income, religion and partisan [affiliation] imperfect because cities are never perfectly homogeneous,” they wrote; However, their geolocation data does not control for those factors.

While it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which demographic is doing hate tweeting, it’s not hard to pinpoint who the target is. The study cites existing research showing that 25% of Blacks and 10% of Hispanics have experienced online harassment based on race. These communities are also the most vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, as climate change worsens. Members of the LGBTQ community are also four times more likely to report online harassment than others, the study found. These same groups, the authors warn, are vulnerable to all kinds of hate tweets, including those related to temperature — and that endanger their health.

“Becoming the target of online hate speech is a serious threat to people’s mental health,” said Annika Stechemesser, PhD researcher at PIK and co-author of the study. “The psychology literature tells us that hate online can exacerbate mental health conditions, especially for young people and disadvantaged groups.”

The authors warn that that threat will grow as anthropogenic climate change worsens and temperature extremes become more common. “Assuming less adaptation and similar patterns of communication,” they write, “this means that hate expressed online could increase as the earth warms in the future.” Hatred is a unique human quality, and climate change is one of our most regrettable actions. Together, they make a very uncomfortable pair.

Other must-read stories from TIME


Write letter for Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.



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