Tips for dealing with the psychological consequences of hate speech

Studies show: Hate comments on the internet often have serious effects on the mental health of those affected. Nevertheless, many underestimate the power of digital hate. It is therefore even more important to draw attention to the possible consequences and to provide information on how those affected can protect themselves and where they can find help.

The impact of hate comments on those affected can be enormous. Numerous initiatives offer support.

The impact of hate comments on those affected can be enormous. Numerous initiatives offer support. © DTAG

A nasty word is quickly written, a mean joke carelessly posted. Many people do not think about the consequences of their comments on the internet. Yet the impact of hate comments on those affected can be enormous. A 2019 survey by the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ) shows that states of stress, dejection, fear, and anxiety are among the most common consequences of hate online. Almost 20 percent of respondents developed physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea. In some cases, persistent online hate can even trigger depression in those affected (19 percent).

The silencing effect: Hate speech affects psyche and democracy

Digital hate not only puts a strain on the psyche of those affected. It also leads to people withdrawing from the internet out of fear of hate comments. They no longer actively participate in political and social discourse. This effect is called "silencing". It poses a real danger to democratic processes. At the same time, it shows how strongly hate on the net affects the well-being and sense of security of those affected.
People who are attacked on the net often find it difficult to assess the actual threat situation. Intimidation and threats trigger a diffuse feeling of fear in them. If this stress is not recognized as such or is repressed, serious mental illnesses can be the result. In such cases, it is important to seek concrete help - and to support those affected.

How to protect your mental health

With these tips you can prevent the psychological consequences of online hate:

  1. switch off
    Turn off push notifications for certain apps on your phone. If you want to get informed, decide when the best time is to do so. Comments may catch you at the wrong moment when your phone is vibrating in your pocket.
  2. Reflect
    Hate on the net is often a structural problem. Hate comments are often directed against people because of their membership in a group. Be aware that the attacks are not directed at you personally. 
  3. talk to others
    Do you feel attacked and hurt? Then talk about it. Take your pain and suffering seriously. Find people with whom you can talk about your experiences. 
  4. draw boundaries
    Counter-speech is important. But: Destructive discussions in comment columns lead nowhere. If counter speech does not help, leave the discussion, block, and report the respective accounts. 
  5. report hate comments 
    Do not simply accept insults on the net. You can defend yourself or help others defend themselves by reporting hate comments to the platform provider. The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) obliges the operators of online platforms to delete illegal content within 24 hours.
  6. seek support 
    You are not alone. If you need support, you can find various support services for victims of digital violence at Telekom's partner organizations. Even a call to the Nummer gegen Kummer (number against grief) can help you to better categorize and process what has happened. Juuuport offers online counselling by young people for young people on all problems on the Internet.   Comments such as insults, threats or inciting statements can be punishable by law. HateAid, hatefree or the reporting centre REspect! support you in filing a complaint. You can find all the partners of our initiative Against Hate on the Net and their offers here.
  7. accept and show solidarity
    It is important not to leave those affected by hate speech alone. One way to support them is through counterspeech. It is especially important for those affected and for the silent majority who are reading along, because those who contradict hate on the internet signal that such comments do not reflect the general opinion. Silence and lack of solidarity hurt at least as much as the hate itself.

Feelee app for better mental health 

Feelee is a new app that is currently conquering the German market. It is supported by Deutsche Telekom. Feelee works like a digital diary that helps to gain insights into one's emotions to strengthen mental resilience. The app is primarily aimed at young people. It aims to teach them to recognize, name and deal with their emotions. With the insight of how their habits influence their emotions, they can regain control over their lives. In this way, they learn to keep a cool head when their world is on fire.

#TAKEPART in fighting for a network without hate

No Hate Speech

Words must not become a weapon. Deutsche Telekom is fighting for a network without hate in which we treat one another respectfully.