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Politics and populism across modes and media

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Edited By Ruth Breeze and Ana María Fernández Vallejo

The relationship between politics and digital media is currently a focus of intense interest: the symbiosis between the two spheres is such that political activity is now almost inseparable from media communication. However, the implications of this development are not fully understood. Digital media are a powerful tool in the hands of mainstream parties, but also make it easier than ever before for the public to express their reactions, or for new actors to enter the political arena. This volume explores the intersection between politics and new media, which involves crucial ideals, values and aspirations, such as informed democracy, citizens’ empowerment and social debate, but also negative aspects like manipulation and polarization.

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Ruth Breeze: “Happy to be insulted”: Offensive language in online discussions of UK radical politics

“Happy to be insulted”: Offensive language in

online discussions of UK radical politics

Extract

Ruth Breeze

One of the main claims made for online discussion boards is that the anonymity they offer gives people licence to express themselves in strong, even insulting terms that they would not use in face to face settings. What is less clear, however, is the social function of such uninhibited exchanges and how they fit into the bigger picture (Upadhyay 2010). It is a commonplace in social psychology that human beings derive much of their identity and self-worth from the groups to which they belong. Our desire to achieve and maintain positive feelings about our own social identity often finds expression in favouring the in-group and denigrating the out-group (Tajfel 1982). Evidence from non-online settings suggests that certain types of insult, such as intergroup identity insults, may actually be perceived by users to have a positive effect in building in-group solidarity (Branscombe/Wann 1994; Grant/Brown 1995). However, it is fair to assume that the dynamics of online insulting is likely to be different from face-to-face confrontation. The use of insults and aggressive language in many social settings may generate negative affect, humiliation and embitterment, or even trigger physical violence, but it is clear that the risk attached to verbal attacks is greatly reduced in online settings, which propitiate the airing of extreme views and the adoption of aggressive stances.

An excellent scenario for exploring this issue is in online discussions of radical politics. These are often characterised by the rapid escalation of conflict and the use...

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