The platformization of violence: Toward a concept of discursive toxicity on social media

Recuero, R. (2024). The platformization of violence: Toward a concept of discursive toxicity on social media. Social Media + Society, 10(1).


Open access: Yes

Notes: Discourse on social media is more than just how we talk—it is about how we construct meaning together. In this paper, Raquel Recuero explores how platforms can enact forms of symbolic violence (that is, where power is legitimized and naturalized) through the discourses displayed in these digital spaces—especially in the form of discursive toxicity. Through a theoretical exploration of concepts such as discourse, symbolic violence, and platforms, Recuero outlines three aspects of toxicity: spread (where violence is amplified), legitimation (where violence is naturalized through the use of authority), and harm (where others are hurt). These facets of toxicity have various (and serious) effects, including increasing polarization, contagion of harmful discourses, and silencing dissent. Overall, this theoretical paper presents an important invitation to pay closer attention to the ways in which platforms transform how violence is enacted and naturalized, arguing that “the structure of platforms, driven by their economic logic, is the fundamental context in which toxicity emerges, as it allows discursive violence to be quickly spread and legitimated” (p. 3).

Abstract: Discourse has long been recognized as a source of symbolic violence, perpetuating power relations and reinforcing existing social hierarchies. With the rise of social media platforms, the influence of discourse on society has gained renewed attention. These platforms, while enabling social interactions, also serve as catalysts for violent behaviors, reinforcing and legitimizing forms of oppression and symbolic violence, particularly the violence of language. While the concept of toxicity is frequently used to describe this phenomenon, its meaning and connection to language often remain unexplored. This article aims to address this gap by examining the significance of toxicity in discourse and how the infrastructure of social media platforms facilitates the emergence of toxic discourses. It argues that while toxicity and violence are related, they are distinct phenomena. Toxicity, as a dimension of symbolic violence, contaminates debates and discourses, and is enabled by the characteristics of platformization in online interactions. Thus, toxicity is an effect of platforms mediating social interactions.

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