A recent study in Italy has found social media networks that includes Facebook increase the risk of being exposed to "offensive behaviors and hate speech" creating a negative effect especially on women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender(LGBT) community.
Researchers at Sapienza University of Rome and the Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques du Grand-Duché du Luxembourg found reading homophobic or sexist comments on public threads can cause anxiety, distress, and deterioration in trust towards unknown others.
The scientists reported, "Interacting online entails a higher risk of being targeted with offensive behaviors and hate speech. This risk is particularly significant for women and users belonging to minorities or discriminated groups."
The study explored survey data from 50,000 people in 24,000 Italian households and analyzed their social networking habits as well as self-reported levels of happiness and self-esteem.
The study showed that just by reading negative comments even without responding to them can adversely impact a person's well-being. Common courtesy is also neglected when it comes to interaction on conversation threads.
"As a result, people care less of the risk of offending others in a conversation. In physical interactions, we usually think twice before insulting a person who politely expresses an opposing view," notes the study. "In online interactions, dealing with strangers who advance opposite views in an aggressive and insulting way seems to be a widespread practice, whatever the topic of discussion is."
Social trust has been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of self-reported happiness in previous studies. However with the increase in popularity of a number of social networking sites, hateful content can reduce the reader's trust in others, and therefore have a detrimental effect on their own well-being.