Social Networks and the Challenge of Hate Disguised as Fear and Politics

Adam Klein

Abstract


This case study examines social networks as the modern intersections of radical discourse and political extremism. But, as this research will show, extremist content in social networks, even that which has telegraphed violent hate crimes, is seldom communicated in textbook forms bigotry or provocations of violence. Today, the true challenge for social networks like Facebook and Twitter is addressing hate speech that reads more like fear mongering and identity politics, and thus, does not get flagged by monitors. From accounts dedicated to inciting fear over the “threat of immigrants” or “black crime,” to groups that form around hashtags declaring that a “#whitegenocide” is underway. These narratives represent the more ubiquitous versions of hate culture that permeate these popular spaces and radicalize cultural discourses happening there. This case study explores how such rhetoric has the same capacity to deliver messages of hate, and even incite violence, by investigating six hate crimes from 2019 that were preceded by social media diatribes. The comparative analysis will show how these examples mostly featured nonviolent expressions of cultural paranoia, rather than avowals of violence or traditional hate speech, thus making them harder to detect by programs seeking out such threats in plain sight. The research then examines the user policies of leading social networks to assess whether their guidelines on hateful and violent content are purposed to address the kinds of language that were espoused by these violent extremists. The study considers the strategies being employed by social networks to expose hateful content of all forms, and the need for more prominent counter narratives.


Keywords


Social Media; Fear Speech; Identity Politics; Shooter Manifestos; Hate Crimes

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References


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