CFP: The global uses and abuses of hate speech discourse, approaching hate speech as political communication

Convenors: Dina Matar & Matti Pohjonen
Date: 31 May 2018

Call for papers:

The public, and intellectual, mood about new media’s promise to bring about positive change globally, has recently turned eerily grim: the wisdom of crowds has been replaced by disinformation and fake news; grassroots activism by populism identified by its use of racist, xenophobic and misogynist hate speech and images in public and media spaces. Indeed, it seems that one of the most urgent debates in our contemporary social and political lives has become the way communication is failing us.

As key events around the emergence of the Islamic State/Daesh, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of extreme far-right movements in Europe and the US attest, a new lexicon of online political tactics has emerged researchers are struggling to come with a vocabulary to describe: terrorist recruitment campaigns on social media; coordinated troll attacks aimed at silencing critical voices; Twitter bots manipulating social media popularity rankings; and online ecosystems of fake news influencing elections and eroding the foundations of democracy itself. Yet despite these visible public controversies, there is still little scholarly agreement on how to understand the ill-effects of’ internet’ freedoms and relate them to the much contested concept of freedom of speech.

Much of the academic writing on hate speech remains concerned with cause-and-effect, and, in particular, to tracking how or whether such negative online speech can lead to violence offline. The expanding literature suggests that such online activity can indeed contribute to violence offline, but it remains theoretically unspecified what the differentiated role of “online” activity is, and how this causal or quasi-causal relationship can be determined in the first place. Furthermore, there is little or no attention to different, and perhaps contextual, understandings of the “right to communicate”, often referred to as the blanket term ‘freedom of speech’, nor to what specific media regulations there are in diverse political/cultural contexts. Finally, while much scholarly attention has been accorded to the rise of online hate speech in the Western world particularly in the context of migration and Islamophobia , little attention has been paid to similar phenomena in Asia, Africa and the Middle East where different socio-historical contexts and histories of media practices need to be acknowledged.

This workshop seeks to move beyond the relatively safe purview of Western liberal democracies and address how global hate speech debates have also been widely used as a proxy for all other kinds of other purposes by different actors. Indeed, as Gagliardone at al (2015) write “accusations of fomenting hate speech may be traded among political opponents or used by those in power to curb dissent and criticism (2015: 10).” The freedom of speech organisation, Article 19 (2015: 16), similarly cautions against “too readily identifying expressions as “hate speech” … as its use can also have negative consequences … and can be abused to justify inappropriate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, in particular in cases of marginalised or vulnerable communities.” These concerns become more urgent to address in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and Africa where real contexts of protracted conflict and displacement, control measures by political elites and would-be political actors, as well as the absence of a consensual approach to understanding what ‘the right to communicate’ means complicate a causal analysis.

Given these difficulties in understanding the widespread rise in the hate speech phenomena worldwide, this one-day workshop approaches these important debates about hate speech through a comparative perspective. Drawing on the concept of “extreme speech” (Pohjonen and Udupa 2017) – developed to foreground such culturally-situated contexts behind online hate speech in different parts of the world – the workshop thus focuses on how the discourse of hate speech itself has been used and abused as a distinct form of political communication by different state and non-state actors globally. Foregrounding cultures of communication in the analysis, allows us to focus on the symbiotic relationship between language, culture and politics as well as on diverse practices and particular histories of speech cultures. By using comparative approaches that address when and what form does hate speech take, we hope to complicate the discourse of Internet “risk” increasingly invoked to legitimate online speech restrictions and ask questions about how and under what circumstances do different online actors engage in hate speech, and with what implications, thus widening the focus beyond the West to the rapidly expanding online worlds of the Global South.

We are interested in arguments/articles around online hate speech in non-Western contexts,

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Hate speech and freedom of expression in Asia, Africa and the Middle East
  • Media regulation and hate speech
  • Gendering hate speech
  • Hate speech as media practice
  • Vernacular language and hate speech
  • Hate speech as violence
  • Hate speech as instrument of power
  • Geneologies of online hate cultures

To attend, please send your abstracts (400 words) to Dina Matar at by 31st of March, 2018.

Notifications about acceptance will be sent by 14th of April.

Abstracts should contain an outline of the argument and how it fits the theme of the workshop.  Please include a brief biography and affiliation together with the abstracts.