Angry by design: toxic communication and technical architectures

Munn, L. (2020). Angry by design: Toxic communication and technical architectures. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 7(1), 1–11.


Open access: Yes

Notes: Platforms’ affordances shape what we do in these digital spaces and how we make sense of the world through them. Unsurprisingly, then, their design also shapes how online harm is enacted and encountered, as well as how we understand its forms and impacts. To explore this, Luke Munn follows a design approach to analyzing Facebook and YouTube to explore how hate might be facilitated in particular ways through the platforms’ architecture. Munn notes key affordances and structures that encourage antisocial behaviour through this analysis. Addressing these structures would demand a profound change in platform incentives—as the constant hunger for engagement driven by monetization makes it unlikely that platforms are incentivized to transform their designs.  

Abstract: Hate speech and toxic communication online is on the rise. Responses to this issue tend to offer technical (automated) or non-technical (human content moderation) solutions, or see hate speech as a natural product of hateful people. In contrast, this article begins by recognizing platforms as designed environments that support particular practices while discouraging others. In what ways might these design architectures be contributing to polarizing, impulsive, or antagonistic behaviors? Two platforms are examined: Facebook and YouTube. Based on engagement, Facebook’s Feed drives views but also privileges incendiary content, setting up a stimulus–response loop that promotes outrage expression. YouTube’s recommendation system is a key interface for content consumption, yet this same design has been criticized for leading users towards more extreme content. Across both platforms, design is central and influential, proving to be a productive lens for understanding toxic communication.

Join the ConversationLeave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *