Temperature impacts on hate speech online: evidence from 4 billion geolocated tweets from the USA

Elsevier, The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 6, Issue 9, 2022, Pages e714-e725
Annika Stechemesser, Anders Levermann, Leonie Wenz

A link between weather and aggression in the offline world has been established across a variety of societal settings. Simultaneously, the rapid digitalisation of nearly every aspect of everyday life has led to a high frequency of interpersonal conflicts online. Hate speech online has become a prevalent problem that has been shown to aggravate mental health conditions, especially among young people and marginalised groups. We examine the effect of temperature on the occurrence of hate speech on the social media platform Twitter and interpret the results in the context of the interlinkage between climate change, human behaviour, and mental health.

In this quantitative empirical study, we used a supervised machine learning approach to identify hate speech in a dataset containing around 4 billion geolocated tweets from 773 cities across the USA between May 1, 2014 and May 1, 2020. We statistically evaluated the changes in daily hate tweets against changes in local temperature, isolating the temperature influence from confounding factors using binned panel-regression models.

The prevalence of hate tweets was lowest at moderate temperatures (12 to 21°C) and marked increases in the number of hate tweets were observed at hotter and colder temperatures, reaching up to 12·5% (95% CI 8·0–16·5) for cold temperature extremes (–6 to –3°C) and up to 22·0% (95% CI 20·5–23·5) for hot temperature extremes (42 to 45°C). Outside of the moderate temperature range, the hate tweets also increased as a proportion of total tweeting activity. The quasi-quadratic shape of the temperature–hate tweet curve was robust across varying climate zones, income quartiles, religious and political beliefs, and both city-level and state-level aggregations. However, temperature ranges with the lowest prevalence of hate tweets were centred around the local temperature mean and the magnitude of the increases in hate tweets for hot and cold temperatures varied across the climate zones.

Our results highlight hate speech online as a potential channel through which temperature alters interpersonal conflict and societal aggression. We provide empirical evidence that hot and cold temperatures can aggravate aggressive tendencies online. The prevalence of the results across climatic and socioeconomic subgroups points to limitations in the ability of humans to adapt to temperature extremes.

Volkswagen Foundation.