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Study: Global warming fueling increase in online hate crimes

"Protecting our climate from excessive global warming is also critical to our mental health."

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Researchers found that both the absolute number and the share of hate tweets rose when temperatures were a climate comfort zone.
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Global warming is fuelling an increase in online hate crimes, according to new research.

Incidents soar by more than a fifth when the mercury index rises - shedding fresh light on the phenomenon.

Climate change is getting people hot-under-the-collar during conversations on social media. Temperatures above 30°C (86°F) are consistently linked.

It applies to all climate zones irrespective of socioeconomic differences such as income, religious beliefs or political preferences.

The findings, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, have implications for social cohesion - suggesting there will be more aggression and violence unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced.

Scientists used a computer neural network to analyze four billion tweets from users in the US.

Reducing CO2 levels. Graph of the decline in carbon dioxide levels
Lead author Dr. Leonie Wenz said: "Protecting our climate from excessive global warming is also critical to our mental health."
(Maples Images via Shutterstock)

First author Dr. Annika Stechemesser said: "People tend to show a more aggressive online behavior when it's either too cold or too hot outside.

"Being the target of online hate speech is a serious threat to people's mental health. The psychological literature tells us online hate can aggravate mental health conditions, especially for young people and marginalized groups.

"We see outside the feel-good window of 12-21°C (54-70°F) online hate increases up to 12 percent for colder temperatures and up to 22 percent for hotter temperatures across the USA."

The AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm identified around 75 million English phrased hate tweets in a data set of more than 4 billion posted between 2014 and 2020.

They then analyzed how the number changed when local temperatures increased or decreased.

Using official UN guidelines, hate speech was defined as discriminatory language with reference to a person or group on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factor.

Dr. Stechemesser said: "We found both the absolute number and the share of hate tweets rise outside a climate comfort zone.

Low levels happened in a 'feel-good window' of 12-21°C (54-70 °F) - with the fewest occurring when it was between 15 and 18°C (59-65°F) outside.

It points to "limits of temperature adaptation capability," say the team at the Potsdam Institute in Germany.

Co-author Professor Anders Levermann said: "Even in high-income areas where people can afford air conditioning 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. Thus, there are likely limits of adaptation to extreme temperatures and these are lower than those set by our mere physiological limits."

The consequences can be severe - even leading to more hate crimes in the offline world.

Lead author Dr. Leonie Wenz added: "For centuries, researchers have grappled with the question of how climate conditions affect human behavior and societal stability.

"Now, with ongoing climate change, it is more important than ever. Our results highlight online hate speech as a new impact channel through which climate change can affect overall societal cohesion and people‘s mental health.

"So that means curbing emissions very rapidly and drastically will not only benefit the outer world.

"Protecting our climate from excessive global warming is also critical to our mental health."

Last year global youth charity Ditch the Label found online hate speech rose by 20 percent during the pandemic.

An analysis of 263 million conversations in the UK and US between 2019 and mid-2021 identified over 50 million discussions about racism.

They spiked around major news events such as the World Health Organisation declaring the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020 and the murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021.

The most extreme included death threats. One woman had abuse spill over into real life when people turned up at their house and took photos of her children through the windows.

The phenomenon was partly blamed on people being stuck indoors in lockdown - which can also happen during extreme weather.

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