Hate speech on social media damages the mind and the heart

We discuss how to safeguard mental health in an online world

We discuss how to safeguard mental health in an online world

Home > Blog > Hate speech on social media damages the mind and the heart


According to a study published in The Lancet, the onset of mental disorders occurs before the age of 14 in 50% of cases and before the age of 24 in 75% of cases. Along the same lines, in Spain, UNICEF is already warning of a higher prevalence of mental disorders among young people. Relationships in the digital world have become a cause of serious emotional imbalance and disorders. These can occur at any age, but are more prevalent among minors, a particularly vulnerable group.

To discuss this situation, we have organized the 2nd Digital Health Conference: Mental health in the face of hate on social networks, with the aim of analyzing how messages laden with hostility and resentment that are disseminated through the internet can affect people’s well-being and what we can do to promote healthy conversation on social media and platforms.

Insults, harassment, denigration, disclosure of secrets, spreading rumors, impersonation, dissemination of recordings… All these actions have serious effects on the mental health of those who suffer them and require a combined action in which educational centers and families play a key role, but in which the whole of society must get involved.

“Societies that grow according to good criteria, freedom, purpose and ethics are those in which people plant trees knowing that they will never sit under them.” This reflection by José Antonio Luengo, Dean and President of the Official College of Psychology in Madrid, in his speech, reflects the essential responsibility we have as a society to lay the foundations so that our children and young people can grow up in a healthy and safe environment, be that digital or non-digital.

One of the keys to achieving this is working together to adjust to the coexistence between the real world and the digital world, transferring the norms of reality to the internet. Just as in reality society assumes certain behavioral standards, the same should apply in the digital world. But here we come up against a difficulty: the fine line that separates freedom of expression from hate speech.

We discuss how to safeguard mental health in an online world

To define what criminal hate speech is, we were joined by Ana Riveiro Calviño, representing the Central Unit of Citizen Participation of the National Police Force, who also detailed the legal concepts that determine this criminal activity and under which articles it is included in the Criminal Code. Social media has changed the way the security forces act, and they have had to reinvent themselves in the face of a new game board. The most important thing: prevention, and acting in time, which, in this field, more than in any other, is vital.

During the conference we were also able to hear the perspective of social media platforms. Camino Rojo, Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy at Twitter Spain, pointed out that “The only way to put an end to hate, abuse and harassment, both on and off the internet, is education and respect for others.” In addition, Twitter provides its users with tools such as advanced filters or conversation controls that this professional considers are indispensable for ensuring that conversations are carried out under certain safety rules.

Although the increase in hate content is less than 1%, the impact it has on the person who suffers it is so potentially harmful that it is not acceptable for this platform. The assessment of hate on social networks should be qualitative, not quantitative. A person who suffers harassment on social networks carries it with them all the time. There is no respite. And, in addition, everything that happens on social media is public. This is one of the big differences between bullying and cyberbullying. To limit exposure, Jen Herranz, a communicator and multimedia creator specializing in video games and technology, suggests setting up filters and limiting access to profiles, and, more importantly, having a good support network, not isolating oneself and, in the event you encounter a problem, seeking help. It is essential to have relationships and engage in activities away from the computer or cell phone, and, for this video game lover, balance is possible.

The speakers agreed on the importance of parental supervision and the need for parents to exercise their responsibility to establish basic habits, so that children and young people can “equip” their minds and develop defense mechanisms in the face of certain situations that may arise when using social networks. “Health is at stake close to home”, maintains psychologist Jose Antonio Luengo, explaining that this implies mainly classrooms and homes. “The internet should be a crucial setting for full development, enjoyment, communication and participation“, said Jorge Flores, founder and director of PantallasAmigas, a partner in the organization of this conference.

Fundación MAPFRE reiterates its commitment to the appropriate use of technology, as underlined by Julio Domingo, General Manager of Fundación MAPFRE, in his speech.