Expressing and Challenging Racist Discourse on Facebook [New Study]

Chaudhry, I., & Gruzd, A. (2019). Expressing and Challenging Racist Discourse on Facebook: How Social Media Weaken the “Spiral of Silence” TheoryPolicy & Internet (online first).

In our newly published paper entitled “Expressing and Challenging Racist Discourse on Facebook: How Social Media Weaken the Spiral of Silence Theory” by Irfan Chaudhry & Anatoliy Gruzd, we examined the discursive practices of Facebook users who use the platform to express racist views. We analyzed 51991 public comments posted to 119 news stories about race, racism, or ethnicity on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Facebook page.

In particular, we examined whether users who hold racist viewpoints (the vocal minority) are less likely to express views that go against the majority view for fear of social isolation. According to the “Spiral of Silence” theory, the vocal minority would presumably fear this isolation effect. However, our analysis shows that on Facebook, a predominantly nonanonymous and moderated platform, the vocal minority are comfortable expressing unpopular views, questioning the explanatory power of this popular theory in the online context.

Based on automated analysis of 8636 comments, we found 64% mentioned race or ethnicity, and 18 percent exhibited some form of “othering”. And our manual coding of 1161 comments revealed that 18% exhibited some form of “othering”, and 25% countered the racist discourse. In sum, while Facebook provides space to express racist discourse, users also turn to this platform to counter the hateful narratives.

Below is a summary of the study, you can find the full text of the paper in Policy and Internet.