Rising Temps, AI, & Online Hate Speech

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Rising Temps, AI, & Online Hate Speech

According to recent data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Summer of 2022 has been one of the hottest on record. As climate change continues to force humans and societies to adapt, do these changes have the potential to surpass impacts like rising sea levels and extreme weather? Could extreme temperatures affect attitudes and behaviors online? Specifically, online hate speech? This is what Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientists sought to explore.

In their paper, recently published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the research team describes an approach where they used a supervised machine learning algorithm to identify hate speech in approximately 4 billion tweets from 773 cities across the United States from May 2014 to May 2020. With the help of the machine learning algorithm, the team identified approximately 75 million English-phrased hate tweets in the dataset. The researchers then statistically evaluated the changes in daily hate speech tweets against changes in local temperatures. In doing so, the team could isolate temperature influence from confounding factors and allowed the team to examine any relationship between temperature and aggressive online behaviors, including hate speech.

In their findings, the researchers report an increase in the frequency of online hate speech during extreme temperatures, be it hot or cold. For example, when local temperatures were above or below 54–70°F, there was a marked rise in the frequency and use of online hate speech across income groups and belief systems. These data suggest that the changes to our climate can also influence our behavior online. Additionally, these data suggest broader social implications associated with the changing climate. These data indicate that many factors influence our behavior in the physical and virtual worlds we frequent.

While replication of findings is still required, this study suggests that online aggression can be linked to changes in our local climate. These data can also open the potential for future research exploring other environmental factors that may influence behavior online. Moreover, as humans continue to adapt to the world around us, this study reminds us that seemingly innocuous ecological changes can affect behaviors online. As this study highlights, we are interconnected and play off one another in the physical or virtual world.

This was Article 195 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.

Kotz, M., Wenz, L., Stechemesser, A., Kalkuhl, M., & Levermann, A. (2021). Day-to-day temperature variability reduces economic growth. Nature Climate Change, 11(4), 319–325.

Miles-Novelo, A., & Anderson, C. A. (2019). Climate change and psychology: Effects of rapid global warming on violence and aggression. Current Climate Change Reports, 5(1), 36–46.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. (2022, September 7). AI-Based Research Reveals That Extreme Temperatures Fuel Online Hate Speech — Neuroscience News. Neuroscience News. https://neurosciencenews.com/extreme-weather-hate-speech-21374/

Rosenthal, Z., & Patel, K. (2022, September 15). Earth just experienced one of its warmest summers on record. Washington Post; The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/09/15/hottest-summer-august-world/‌ ‌

Stechemesser, A., Levermann, A., & Wenz, L. (2022). Temperature impacts on hate speech online: evidence from 4 billion geolocated tweets from the USA. The Lancet Planetary Health, 6(9), e714-e725.


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