A study has found that being exposed to homophobic Facebook comments has a negative impact on people’s mental wellbeing.

The research, conducted by the Sapienza University of Rome and the Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques du Grand-Duché du Luxembourg, explored internet usage data from 50,000 people in Italy who used social networks, as well as measuring their reported levels of happiness and self-esteem.

The research found that people who use social networks are more exposed to “offensive behaviours and hate speech”, and that bigoted comments had a tangible effect on people’s happiness.

The study found: “Online networks also are a fertile ground for spreading harmful, offensive, or controversial contents often lying at the verge between free speech and hate speech.”

“Tolerant users may easily find themselves to interact with unknown, racist or homophobic readers on a ‘public’ page.

“Interacting online entails a higher risk of being targeted with offensive behaviours and hate speech.

“This risk is particularly significant for women and users belonging to minorities or discriminated
groups.

“[Using Facebook] exposes individuals to the risk of worsening people’s trust in others and therefore people’s life satisfaction.

“This finding suggests the need to update social networking sites’ policies against hate speech and aggressive behaviors, as already requested by a growing number of advocacy groups.”