Co-organising Global Digital Media Cultures and “Extreme Speech” workshop

I will be co-organising a two-day workshop in February at the Ludwig Maximilian University,  Munich, where we are inviting 20 top scholars from around the world to discuss the issue of “extreme speech.”

This will be one of the most important events on this topic in 2018 so look out for news and updates here. Description below:

Global Digital Media Cultures and “Extreme Speech”
23-24 February 2018

Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich

Sahana Udupa (LMU Munich)
Matti Pohjonen (Africa’s Voices Foundation)

Recent political upheavals in Europe and the US have once again highlighted
the paradoxical nature of contemporary digital communication. The
celebratory discourse of digital technologies’ potential for openness and
democracy is now eclipsed by the “dark side” of new media as a platform for
promoting hate speech, fake news, terrorism, misogyny and intergroup
conflict. Researchers are confronted with a new lexicon of communicative
tactics: ecosystems of fake news; disinformation campaigns; coordinated
troll attacks; and targeted hacks aimed at influencing elections. Calls to
monitor, legislate and remove hateful and violent online speech have also
reinvigorated older legal, political and philosophical debates on the
boundaries of accepted civility and legitimate forms of political
communication. The negative forms of online speech, it is widely argued,
threaten the taken-for-granted freedoms commonly associated with digital
media cultures across the world and bringing about what some critics have
called a “post-truth” society.

Despite this heightened sense of urgency, these concerns are, however, by
no means new or limited to the Western world. A cursory glance of many
examples from the “global South” reveals a long-standing anxiety about the
dangers of unbridled speech in situations where it can provoke ethnic and
religious conflict, mass violence and social unrest. In Ethiopia, for
example, following a series of violent protests and killings, the
government has declared a state of emergency and made political commenting
on Facebook illegal under the pretext of preserving peace. In India, social
media is replete with acrimonious abusive exchange in political debates.
Legal stipulations to prevent hate speech on grounds of religious harmony
and national security are routinely invoked to regulate online media in
India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. In Myanmar, social media has been
used widely by Buddhist groups to ignite violence against its Muslim
minority. In all the cases, digital media have also evolved into vibrant
forums for political participation and counter-speech.

The aim of the Global Digital Media Cultures and Extreme Speech workshop is
to examine these paradoxes of contemporary digital communication from a
critical-comparative perspective rooted in ethnography. By defining online
vitriol as “extreme speech”, we depart from the dominant legal definitions
of “hate speech” and narrowly constructed terrorism talk. As a form of
digital culture, “extreme speech” pushes the boundaries of legitimate
speech along the twin axes of truth-falsity and civility-incivility,
raising critical questions about some of the taken-for-granted assumptions
of communication and political participation. “Extreme speech” serves to
reinforce differences and hatred between groups on grounds of religion,
race, political ideology and gender, often with the overt intent to
intimidate and agitate target groups and individuals. Yet, its ambivalent
nature in certain contexts could also provoke challenges to established
hegemony. “Extreme speech” thus foregrounds an approach to digital cultures
as forms of situated practice (i.e. what people do that is related to media
within specific cultural contexts) in order to avoid predetermining the
effects of online volatile speech as vilifying, polarizing or lethal
(Pohjonen and Udupa 2017).

To advance these aims, the workshop invites a selected number of scholars
from across the world to discuss the latest empirical findings,
methodologies and theoretical frameworks to understand “extreme speech” in
Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. We invite scholars engaged in
ethnographic research on the topic using the perspectives of anthropology,
critical discourse analysis, history or communication studies. Over two
days of presentations and discussions, the participants will explore the
different mediatized contexts of digital use and circulation and cultures
of digital exchange and securitization, to examine what this dramatic rise
of volatile speech means for democratic dialogue and participation across
the world.

Topics include but are not limited to:

– Ethnographies of production and circulation of online extreme speech
– Ethnographic analysis of ‘hate speech’ discourse as regulatory/state
– Cultural translation of hateful content
– Audience ethnographies and the consumption of extreme speech
– Ethnographically driven mixed method approaches to study online
extreme speech (virtual ethnography, data-driven digital ethnography,
offline-online multi-sited ethnography, network ethnography)
– Trolling and online aggression
– Extreme speech and gender
– Extreme speech and ethnic conflict
– Political cultures of disinformation and fake news
– Forms of resistance to extreme speech
– Extreme speech and its challenges to communication theory
– Technologies and cultures of extreme speech monitoring

Attendance to this closed workshop is fully funded. Organizers will cover
the costs of travel, accommodation and food. Workshop papers will
contribute to the proposed edited collections (a special journal issue and
an edited volume).  The workshop will be held at Frauenchiemsee, a
picturesque island about an hour away from Munich.

The workshop is part of Project ONLINERPOL (
funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant and hosted at LMU
Munich, Germany.