Characterizing and Countering the Normalization of Extremism and Communal Violence in Cyber-Social Space
Program: DECUR Partnership
Co-Principal Investigators: Yu-Ru Lin and Rebecca Hwa, University of Pittsburgh; Deborah Wheeler and Andrew Miller, United States Naval Academy
Years of Award: 2023--2025
Managing Service Agency: Office of Naval Research
The rising tide of political extremism, including extremist rhetoric that targets and demonizes contextually determined "outgroups," threatens national security and democracy worldwide. This project will examine how groups and individuals exploit the features of a modern democratic society, such as free speech and digital communications, to promote hate and illiberal ideas against targeted others. We will conduct a comparative case study of political extremist community formation and outgroup targeting four democratic countries that are facing a reported increase in hate-based violence and polarized electoral politics. We seek to identify the connections between online-offline hate-motivated speech acts, conspiracies, calls to arms, and cases of communal violence through a rigorous mixed-methods approach combining in-depth ethnography and quantitative analysis of social media sites. Our study builds upon emerging literature on the normalization of hate. Combining virtual and immersive ethnography and data science approaches, we aim to explore the extent to which the practices -- in terms of language and social patterns -- of normalizing hatred and group conflicts can be characterized across cultural and sociopolitical contexts. This research complements the growing body of research on "flagging" hate problems; specifically, we focus on examining the adaptation or normalization of hate through cultural practices. Through comparative studies in four country cases, this research will provide a multi-scale understanding of hate transmissions and help to identify the vulnerability of democracy locally and globally. This research has important implications for advancing U.S. and DoD policy priorities. It will not only help to understand how their impact can be limited but also will contribute to the defense establishment's understanding of how extremist organizations, more broadly, can be neutralized.