UC sociologist leads global discussion on rise of digital hate

11 September 2019

University of Canterbury Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw is editing a collection of international research that seeks a deeper understanding of digital hate.

  • Grimshaw

    “It is vital that we have this in-depth analysis because this is about more than March 15, more than Brevik, more than El Paso: something is happening with our use of the internet that is facilitating these violent actions and we need to critically investigate what is going on,” Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw says.

University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw is editing a collection of international research that seeks a deeper understanding of digital hate.

Called ‘Digital Hate and (Anti-)Social Media’, the research forum was launched by Associate Professor Grimshaw in the wake of the 15 March attack on Christchurch mosques and the Christchurch Call. Researchers from around the world are contributing papers to the collection. The series will be published later this year by Palgrave Communications, an open access online journal dedicated to publishing high quality original research.

“When the attack happened here, I was contacted by researchers in Norway who were seeing connections between March 15 and Andreas Brevik’s 2011 attacks in Norway and the rise of alt-right hate,” Associate Professor Grimshaw says.

“Two months later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and President of France Emmanuel Macron launched the Christchurch Call aimed at eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online.”

The two leaders hosted a summit in Paris on 15 May with world leaders and tech company CEOs to discuss how they can prevent social media being used to organise and promote terrorism, including signing the Christchurch Call pledge.

“Will it be effective? What is the scale and scope of alt-right and hate-speech content online and is it possible to regulate it in a transnational way? These are some of the questions this series will explore,” Associate Professor Grimshaw says.

“Other questions under interrogation will be: Is social media increasingly anti-social in its content and effects?; How does hate-speech circulate and why do social media platforms host it?; and What can or should be done about content on platforms such as, for instance, 4chan, 8chan and the dark net?”

Contributors include researchers from New Zealand, Norway and Australia, as well as UC postgraduate student Ben Elley, who is currently completing a PhD on the alt-right and online radicalisation. He wrote about the attack shortly afterwards, saying it was clear that the shooter was a member of the pro-fascist, alt-right communities that connect on the internet. Elley also met with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attack on Christchurch Mosques.

“It is vital that we have this in-depth analysis taking place because this is about more than March 15, more than Brevik, more than El Paso: something is happening with our use of the internet that is facilitating these violent actions and we need to critically investigate what is going on."

Associate Professor Grimshaw says he chose Palgrave Communications as the publisher, not only because of its commitment to quality research but because it is an open source platform.

“We want to facilitate a conversation and we can’t do that if the research is locked away behind pay walls. This collection will be a publicly available resource that anyone can read.”

Articles will be uploaded over the next few months, bringing in-depth analysis to the issue of digital hate.

“There was a lot of on-the-spot analysis and discussion after March 15. This research collection seeks to gain a wider understanding of what is giving rise to this problem. It’s a critical discussion and a global discussion.”

As Associate Professor Grimshaw observes, the March 15 attack was not simply mass murder; it also served as online terrorist propaganda. “It was livestreamed intentionally to be circulated as a call to arms…and the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to regulate and control the internet.”

Associate Professor Grimshaw has previously edited a Palgrave research collection on ‘Digital Society and Capitalism’, available online.

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