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Hothead, cold shoulder: Study suggests extreme temperature fuels hate speech online

By NICK GARCIA Published Sep 09, 2022 6:03 pm

Climate change isn't only melting glaciers and blighting crops. A new study found that extreme temperatures fuel hate speech online.

Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that internet users exhibit aggression on hotter and colder days. Their study was published on the open access journal The Lancet Planetary Health last Sept. 1.

Through machine learning, researchers analyzed over four billion tweets from over 700 cities in the United States from May 1, 2014, to May 1, 2020.

Of the tweets, researchers noted that at least 75 million or 2% contain hate speech, which they defined as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to...religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factor."

The tweets were then combined with local temperature data to establish a "precise match."

Researchers identified a "feel-good window" of 12C to 21C (54F to 70F), in which hate tweet levels are low. But outside of that, they observed more hate tweets.

Temperatures between -6C to -3C (21F to 27F) saw a 12.5% increase in hate tweets, while temperatures between 42C to 45C (108F to 113F) had a 22% increase.

"Both the absolute number and the share of hate tweets rise outside a climate comfort zone," co-author Annika Stechemesser said. "People tend to show a more aggressive online behavior when it's either too cold or too hot outside."

Study co-author Anders Levermann said even areas where people can afford air conditioning units write hate tweets.

"In other words: There is a limit to what people can take," Levermann said. "Thus, there are likely limits of adaptation to extreme temperatures and these are lower than those set by our mere physiological limits."

Researchers highlighted the need to combat climate change and hate speech, as it could put others, especially young people, at greater risk for depression and self-harm.

Their study, however, wasn’t able to break down the data in terms of socioeconomic differences, religion, race, or political affiliations. They didn't do so, arguing that the cities "are never perfectly homogenous."