Date of Award

Fall 9-22-2020

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Chair

Bridget Hayden

Committee Chair School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 2

Marie Danforth

Committee Member 2 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 3

Katie Smith

Committee Member 3 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Abstract

Websites, such as 4chan, have provided a place for extremism and hate speech to flourish through anonymous discourse. One group that has been especially important to this growth has been the alt-right. The alt-right is a far-right white nationalist movement that is known for engaging in trolling, creating memes, and generating conspiracy theories. Past research has focused on the amounts of hate speech and characterizing content on the website. However, past studies have not looked at the experience of using the website through the combination of participant observation and content analysis. Here I show that the extensive use of hate speech on the politically incorrect board of 4chan is used primarily to signal identity. However, constant engagement with the content normalizes these patterns of speech. I found that many words that are considered hate speech were used to signal belonging, complicating the findings of past studies that count the usage of hate speech to characterize the content of the website. Despite this usage, I found that constant engagement with the content normalized content from the site and increased my conspiratorial thinking. This study demonstrates the complexity of researching those with whom we disagree, highlighting the importance of empathetic research that considers both the intentions of those studied as well as the consequences of their actions.

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