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ECPR Rising Star Award

Interaction Ritual Chains and Violent Rhetoric in Radical Right Online Social Media

Political Violence
Social Media
Mattias Wahlström
University of Gothenburg
Mattias Wahlström
University of Gothenburg

The importance of the internet for right-wing political violence has been widely acknowledged, but the mechanisms by which online social interactions contribute to instigating political violence remain poorly understood. This paper contributes to an understanding of comparatively unorganized low-level right-wing political violence, such as arson attacks against refugee housing facilities, through an analysis of micro-level dynamics on online discussion forums. Previous research has shown that these kinds of attacks are variously perpetrated by organized radical right activist groups as well as by local individuals and groups with rather low levels of organization. Social media discussions are arguably a particularly important factor in relation to the latter category of perpetrators. Building on recent work that supports the applicability of Randall Collins’ theory of interaction ritual chains to online interactions, we study the interaction dynamics in two different radical right online discussion forums. Our assumption is that discussions in online social media may contribute to violent action as spaces for emotional and motivational preparation for participants (and presumably also passive readers). Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative text analysis, we study discussion threads as interaction rituals, with the aim to identify typical properties of interactional contexts for aggressive and/or violent rhetoric. We pay particular attention to the role of “sacred symbols” and to what extent they contribute to escalating the affective intensity in the interaction rituals, as well as to discourses legitimating violence.
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