Prevalence and psychological effects of hateful speech in online college communities

Koustuv Saha, Eshwar Chandrasekharan, Munmun De Choudhury

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Background. Hateful speech bears negative repercussions and is particularly damaging in college communities. The efforts to regulate hateful speech on college campuses pose vexing socio-political problems, and the interventions to mitigate the effects require evaluating the pervasiveness of the phenomenon on campuses as well the impacts on students' psychological state. Data and Methods. Given the growing use of social media among college students, we target the above issues by studying the online aspect of hateful speech in a dataset of 6 million Reddit comments shared in 174 college communities. To quantify the prevelence of hateful speech in an online college community, we devise College Hate Index (CHX). Next, we examine its distribution across the categories of hateful speech, behavior, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, race, religion, and sexual orientation. We then employ a causal-inference framework to study the psychological effects of hateful speech, particularly in the form of individuals' online stress expression. Finally, we characterize their psychological endurance to hateful speech by analyzing their language- their discriminatory keyword use, and their personality traits. Results. We find that hateful speech is prevalent in college subreddits, and 25% of them show greater hateful speech than non-college subreddits. We also find that the exposure to hate leads to greater stress expression. However, everybody exposed is not equally affected; some show lower psychological endurance than others. Low endurance individuals are more vulnerable to emotional outbursts, and are more neurotic than those with higher endurance. Discussion. Our work bears implications for policy-making and intervention efforts to tackle the damaging effects of online hateful speech in colleges. From technological perspective, our work caters to mental health support provisions on college campuses, and to moderation efforts in online college communities. In addition, given the charged aspect of speech dilemma, we highlight the ethical implications of ourwork. Ourwork lays the foundation for studying the psychological impacts of hateful speech in online communities in general, and situated communities in particular (the ones that have both an offline and an online analog).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWebSci 2019 - Proceedings of the 11th ACM Conference on Web Science
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781450362023
StatePublished - Jun 26 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event11th ACM Conference on Web Science, WebSci 2019 - Boston, United States
Duration: Jun 30 2019Jul 3 2019

Publication series

NameWebSci 2019 - Proceedings of the 11th ACM Conference on Web Science


Conference11th ACM Conference on Web Science, WebSci 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • College subreddits
  • Hateful speech
  • Mental health
  • Natural language analysis
  • Psychological endurance
  • Reddit
  • Social media
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications


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