Infrastructural platform violence: How women and queer journalists and activists in Lebanon experience abuse on WhatsApp

Riedl, M. J., El-Masri, A., Trauthig, I. K., & Woolley, S. C. (2024). Infrastructural platform violence: How women and queer journalists and activists in Lebanon experience abuse on WhatsApp. New Media & Society


Open access: Yes

Notes: Platform features afford various forms of violence—for example, a blocking feature can be turned into a silencing weapon, or an emoji reaction tool can be used to naturalize abuse. To investigate how specific platform features are used for various enactments of violence, Riedl and colleagues set to explore the experiences of women and queer journalists and activists in Lebanon around violence on Whatsapp. To explore this, they outline the concept of infrastructural platform violence, where they aim to connect two modalities of harm: “(1) violence propagate on platforms, wherein platforms serve as a communicative and technological avenue for perpetrators to target their victims, and (2) violence propagated by platforms, wherein a platform’s infrastructure neglects—or does not sufficiently protect—vulnerable user populations.” (p. 2-3). In their study, they found that WhatsApp’s features are used to propagate and enact various forms of gendered violence, which results in severe individual and societal impacts with little response from platforms. Overall, this is an important study to bridge the gap between violence enacted on platforms and violence enacted by platforms—a critical step in understanding and addressing the complex contemporary ecologies of harm in our postdigital landscape. 

Abstract: Technology-facilitated abuse and violence disproportionately affect marginalized people. While researchers have explored this issue in the context of public-facing social media platforms, less is known about how it plays out on more private messaging apps. This study draws on in-depth interviews with women and queer journalists and activists in Lebanon to illustrate their experiences of infrastructural platform violence on WhatsApp. Specifically, we distinguish between identity-based violence propagated on platforms, and violence propagated by platforms due to infrastructural neglect of vulnerable populations. Our results document how perpetrators employ the affordances of WhatsApp in harmful ways. We highlight the individual emotional and reputational toll of doxxing and harassment campaigns. The study also showcases the societal ramifications of silencing and self-censorship, as well as infrastructural platform failures. Findings underscore the need to shift attention in platform studies toward populations and geographies whose safety has systemically been neglected by technology companies.

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