EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P056)
Digital media cultures and extreme speech
Location U6-20
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Sahana Udupa (Central European University) email
  • Matti Pohjonen (Dublin City University (DCU)) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Sahana Udupa and Matti Pohjonen

Short Abstract

The panel examines the significance of "extreme speech" in digital cultures across the world and its cultural, social and political implications.

Long Abstract

The Snowden revelations signaled an emphatic challenge to the euphoric pronouncements on new media as radical enabler of citizen participation, democracy and openness. In its place, we have seen an increased focus on the "dark side" of internet freedoms: as a platform for promoting hate speech; right wing nationalist mobilization; intergroup conflict; and expanding government surveillance and censorship. Such "extreme speech," it is argued, now threatens many of the taken-for-granted freedoms commonly associated with digital media cultures across the world. While volatile speech restricts and even suspends open dialogue, it is also increasingly used by governments across the world to legitimize securitization and control over its citizens' communicative practices, often rhetorically justified by the fear of negative consequences of extreme speech. This panel brings together some of the latest empirically grounded case studies and theoretical reflections from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, to advance a critical anthropological discussion on the phenomenal rise of extreme speech in the digital worlds and its ramifications. Going beyond legal definitions of "hate speech" and narrowly constructed terrorism talk, we approach "extreme speech" as a digital culture that serves to reinforce differences and hatred between groups on grounds of religion, race, political ideology and gender, often with the overt intent to intimidate and agitate target groups and individuals. Panelists will explore the mediatized contexts of digital use and circulation, and the cultures of digital exchange and securitization to examine what this dramatic rise of volatile speech means for democratic dialogue and participation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

In the name of the people: extreme speech and securitization in the Prime Minister of Israel social media discourses

Authors: Salome Boukala (ELIAMEP)  email
Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the rhetoric of the Prime Minister of Israel on security issues and attempts to illustrate how B.Netanyahu contributed to the discursive distinction between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and legitimized the political agenda on Gaza conflicts through extreme speech on social media

Long Abstract

This paper explores the rhetoric of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, regarding security issues and the threat of 'Islamist enemy' as manifested in the recent election campaign (March 2015), his statements on 'Operation Protective Edge' and his reaction to the stabbing attacks on Israelis (October 2015). By focusing on national security, repeating his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state and underlying the threat of 'Islamist enemy' against Israel, Netanyahu contributed to the discursive distinction between 'Us' and 'Them' and legitimized his government's political decisions on Gaza conflicts. Our aim is to introduce an interdisciplinary approach in the analysis of the exclusionary rhetoric of the Israeli Prime Minister who proceeded, "in the name of the people", to the discursive construction of in-groups and out-groups.

By synthesizing online ethnographic approaches and the discursive strategies of the Discourse Historical Approach (DHA) of Critical Discourse Studies and drawing upon the concept of securitization and the representation of the 'Other', we intend to analyze the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the Prime Minister of Israel and discussions on Facebook groups that focus on Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We assume that the of political statements on social media and the analysis of non-elite social media discourse could reveal silent strategies that are employed to support a discriminatory political agenda that stigmatizes the 'Other' as a national threat. Volatile speech and discriminatory messages are embedded in political discourses and social media genres that we aim to highlight through our multimodal, multi-methodical analysis.

The rise of anti-#BlackLivesMatter rhetoric

Author: Allissa Richardson (University of Maryland College Park)  email

Short Abstract

This critical-technological discourse analysis examines the affordances news discussion boards and social media provide anti-Black Lives Matter rhetors.

Long Abstract

The historic election of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2008 ushered in an academic paradigm of colorblindness where scholars mulled over what a "post-racial" America looked like. By Obama's second term, however, the highly publicized killings of dozens of black boys by white police officers and vigilantes inspired the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013. The movement has grown since then, from a digital outcry to actual protests in various cities across the United States, sparking extreme rhetoric in various online spaces. From the blogs of mainstream, conservative, television news anchors, to the Twitter feeds of outraged opponents to Black Lives Matter, vitriolic language abounds when the movement is discussed. This critical-technological discourse analysis will examine what affordances news discussion boards and social media provide anti-Black Lives Matter rhetors. It will explore also the varied attempts to undermine the Black Lives Matter mission to end police brutality by coining phrases such as "All Lives Matter," "Blue Lives Matter," and so forth.

From spontaneous cyber-solidarities to extreme engagement

Author: Gabriel Stoiciu ('Francisc Rainer' Anthropological Institute)  email

Short Abstract

Our main goal is to show how important is the role of social media in spontaneous solidarities and the way in which an extreme speech regarding the role and place of religion and state as allegedly responsible institutions for such tragedies can emerge in this environment.

Long Abstract

Social media is becoming more and more the “weapon of choice” used by public opinion whereas the press is often seen as manipulative and submitted to the establishment. Unfortunately, the most powerful impact in social media, as in the mainstream one, is caused by the “terrible news”. The emotional complex surrounding this kind of events varies from despair to anger and sometimes develops into extreme speech.

Maximum exposure was given during 2015 to terror attacks reclaimed in the name of religious fundamentalism committed in France (“Chalie Hebdo” and “Bataclan”). These events gave an opportunity to far right activists to contest the legitimacy and resilience of the establishment. Romania also had its share of “terrible news” with a fire which destroyed “Colectiv Club” in Bucharest, killing 63 people and injuring 143. Up until now the cause of fire is still under debate, but the fact that it happened on Halloween night during a metalcore concert gave the opportunity to orthodox radicals to prove a point and consequently be attacked by secularist counterparts.

Our main goal is to show how important is the role of social media in spontaneous solidarities and the way in which an extreme speech regarding the role and place of religion and state as allegedly responsible institutions for such tragedies can emerge in this environment. In the same time, an assessment has been carried out concerning the responses of the above mentioned authorities’ to the social media echo of these events.

Hate speech and digital technologies in Myanmar

Authors: Thant Sin Oo (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)  email
Elisa Oreglia (SOAS University of London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the rise of online hate speech in Myanmar and argues that it is the continuation of entrenched political tactics that are finding a new outlet and a wider participation through digital technologies.

Long Abstract

In 2011, Myanmar started a transition from a military dictatorship that heavily censored media, including the Internet, to a more democratic government that supports free media. This transition has been accompanied by a rise of ultra-nationalist groups that use a variety of traditional and digital media to diffuse virulently anti-Muslim messages. Bouts of communal violence within the period 2012-2014 were the direct result of hate speech mobilization via new media. Drawing from primary and secondary sources, participant observation, and ethnographic work on the use of new media in Myanmar, this paper will explore the institutionalization of hatred toward ethnic and religious minority groups on social media during the transition period 2011-2015. It will examine the intersection of religious, nationalist and political ideologies expressed in the form of extreme speech and disseminated through social media in the period leading to the 2015 election. Rather than being an online-only phenomenon, in Myanmar hate speech is a form of political ideology that has been deployed as a tool to sway voters, as shown in the 2015 elections, when the opposition party did not win in the areas where hate groups have had the strongest offline (and online) influence.

The many risks of extreme speech: a comparative perspective to the imagined dangers of global digital cultures

Author: Matti Pohjonen (Dublin City University (DCU))  email

Short Abstract

The paper provides a comparative perspective to dangerous speech in the social media in Ethiopia and EU and methods proposed to counter it.

Long Abstract

Debates on digital cultures are increasingly turning to its "dark side": to the many risks associated with online and social media behavior. The risks associated with the dark side of internet freedoms, however, exist in the horizon of our unknowable futures: in the potential terrorist attack that was facilitated by them; in the youngsters that might be radicalized by them; or in the polarisation of conflict that the proliferation of hate speech can bring about. A new "dispositif" of risk, scholars have argued, has thus emerged through which these imagined dangers are now contained and controlled. Indeed many of the political, legal and technological mechanisms adopted have been designed to predict and prevent these future dangers: early warning systems, surveillance and censorship, predictive policing, monitoring of online radicalization, forcing internet intermediaries to remove speech that could be considered hateful and offensive.

This debate linking contemporary digital cultures with their imagined risks, however, has been largely inflected by a Euro-American discourse on war on terror and its particular understanding of risk. This paper hopes to broaden the debate by providing a comparative perspective to extreme speech in global digital cultures and methods proposed to counter it. Based on research on hate speech in the social media in Ethiopia and the EU, the paper proposes a more situated perspective that takes into account the specific cultures of communication, political context, and media practices involved in the production of extreme speech as well as mechanisms proposed to counter and control it.

Politics of online abuse: an anthropological critique of hate speech debates

Author: Sahana Udupa (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the proliferating abusive speech on social media in India, to develop an anthropological critique of hate speech debates.

Long Abstract

In the last decade, the legal-regulatory terminology of 'hate speech' has become salient as a category to take cognizance of the volatile debates expanding in cyberspace. The term predefines the effects of hate speech as negative, and the regulatory rationale as control and containment. This paper examines online political cultures of nationalism and the raging debates on Internet censorship in India, to develop an anthropological critique of hate speech debates. Far from predetermining the effects of online speech as vilifying, polarizing or lethal, the paper analyzes the cultures of digital use that make volatile speech a compelling form of communication online. It develops the emic category of 'gaali' to signal the blurred boundaries between comedy, insult, shame and abuse emerging on online media. Cautioning against the regulatory excess peddled through the uniform templates of 'hate speech' and notions of incivility that underwrite the efforts to curb online speech, the paper argues for a typology of online volatile speech which maps the context of digital use, histories and public cultures of speech forms and variation in user motivations. Such a typology, it suggests, is one way to address the contradiction between censoring violent speech by dominant voices and the need to protect freedom of expression.

Exclusionary reasoning in Danish social media and web-news commentaries

Author: Peter Hervik (Aalborg University, Denmark)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss cases of racialization and extreme speech in dialogical blogs (weblogs), Facebook exchanges, and website news commentaries in Denmark relating to issues of migration, Islam, racialization and radicalization.

Long Abstract

With the 15-year-long decline of newspapers sold in Denmark, scholars have anticipated that online social media blogs could serve to democratize public debate not least because of the explosive growth of people engaged in social media debates. This paper takes the analysis of racialization to interactive and dialogical blogs (weblogs), Facebook exchanges, and website news commentaries that are related to issues of migrants, migration, Islam, ethnicity, race, and radicalization.In particular, we are interested in the extreme speech, ‘ritualized adversativeness’, and the indifference to facts in a number of Danish Facebook exchanges and Web-News commentaries. The project adheres to the media-anthropological insistence on not looking exclusively at actors in online social networks, but in all social fields of interaction, emphasizing that authors in the social media networks are also engaged in the articulation of activities outside the social media world, such as public events. Therefore, offline engagement with Internet actors and commentators is one of the prerequisites of this study including in-depth interviewing. The paper will present and discuss cases that are being collected in the spring of 2016 comprising Danish debates that connects Islam, multiculturalism and liberals.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.