The affordances of extreme speech

de Keulenaar, E. (2023). The affordances of extreme speech. Big Data & Society, 10(2).


Open access: Yes

Notes: In this commentary, de Keulenaar explores the affordances of extreme speech. Here, she understands speech affordances as “platform content moderation policies, techniques or speech norms practiced within social media” (p. 2), which allows us to better understand how hate and other forms of extreme speech alter or adapt to platform policies. In more detail, they outline three levels of extreme speech affordances:

  1. High-level affordances, which delimit what is possible within specific platforms (e.g., content moderation policies and national legislation)
  2. Low-level affordances, which refer to the techniques and features used to shape and control speech (e.g., de-platforming, flagging, self-destructive posts)
  3. User culture, which refers to the communities of users who create norms through community guidelines 

As a whole, these affordances illustrate how people and platforms negotiate (and sometimes reject) the use of extreme speech. 

Abstract: New media studies invested in online political conflict, radical and antagonistic subcultures have taken an interest in the affordances that shape memes, vernaculars and online political communication. One often overlooked affordance is the ensemble of social, communication, platform and legal frameworks stipulating what users can and cannot say, which I call “speech affordances.” To explore this concept, I look at the strategic communication of 4chan, Twitter and YouTube subcultures tied to a historical meme, “Kekistan,” often perceived as a key example of the ideological cacophony of the 2015–2017 online “culture wars.” I focus on how 4chan’s policy of user anonymity, YouTube’s unmoderated comment sections and Twitter’s more proactive moderation practices brought some influencers to alter the original connotations of the meme into “overt” messages tolerable to Twitter and YouTube out-groups and platform moderation policies. Speech affordances bear methodological implications for historical studies of speech moderation and the overall mechanisms in which problematic language adapts to spaces with distinct speech norms.

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