Combatting hate and trolling with love and reason? A qualitative analysis of the discursive antagonisms between organized hate speech and counterspeech online

Keller, N., & Askanius, T. (2020). Combatting hate and trolling with love and reason? A qualitative analysis of the discursive antagonisms between organized hate speech and counterspeech online. Studies in Communication and Media, 9(4), 540–572.


Open access: Yes

Notes: In this article, Keller and Askanius explore hate speech and counterspeech in Germany. More specifically, they discuss two digital movements: Reconquista Germanica (a right-wing Discord channel) and Reconquista Internet (an independent civil rights movement to counter hate speech). They analyze content from social media feeds and their guiding documentation (e.f., the Handbook for Media Guerillas by RG). In sum, researchers found several interesting insights. First, both groups aim to operate highly strategically—and while one seeks to create chaos and the other aims to better understand its opponents, both ultimately strive to affect users who observe their online interactions. Second, calls for objective and fact-based discussions often fail to affect the opponent. However, such counterspeech plays a role in displaying the other side of the argument to observers, balancing the perceived public opinion,

Abstract: An increasingly organized culture of hate is flourishing in today’s online spaces, posing a serious challenge for democratic societies. Our study seeks to unravel the work-ings of online hate on popular social media and assess the practices, potentialities, and limitations of organized counterspeech to stymie the spread of hate online. This article is based on a case study of an organized “troll army” of online hate speech in Germany, Re-conquista Germanica, and the counterspeech initiative Reconquista Internet. Conducting a qualitative content analysis, we first unpack the strategies and stated intentions behind organized hate speech and counterspeech groups as articulated in their internal strategic documents. We then explore how and to what extent such strategies take shape in online media practices, focusing on the interplay between users spreading hate and users counter-speaking in the comment sections of German news articles on Facebook. The analysis draws on a multi-dimensional framework for studying social media engagement (Uldam & Kaun, 2019) with a focus on practices and discourses and turns to Mouffe’s (2005) con-cepts of political antagonism and agonism to operationalize and deepen the discursive di-mension. The study shows that the interactions between the two opposing camps are high-ly moralized, reflecting a post-political antagonistic battle between “good” and “evil” and showing limited signs of the potentials of counterspeech to foster productive agonism. The empirical data indicates that despite the promising intentions of rule-guided counter-speech, the counter efforts identified and scrutinized in this study predominantly fail to adhere to civic and moral standards and thus only spur on the destructive dynamics of digital hate culture.

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