“Who is really British anyway?”: A thematic analysis of responses to online hate materials


This article aims to add to the relatively small body of literature on online hatred. In particular, it focuses on the role social networking sites may play in the development of polarisation, by exploring how online users respond to explicit online hate materials. Specifically, this article discusses the ways in which a self-selected sample of YouTube users responded, via posting online comments, to a video clip in which a White female train passenger (called Emma) could be seen to racially to abuse other passengers. Thematic analysis of the YouTube comments identified four main themes: (1) Making Sense of Emma, which encapsulated posters' attempts to find explanations for Emma’s behaviour; (2) Meeting Hatred with Hatred, which described posters’ attempts to oppose Emma’s racism by means of resorting to aggressive, hateful language; (3) Us versus Them, which encapsulated posters' tendencies to categorise themselves and other posters into in- and outgroups, based on their particular stance on racism; (4) Contesting Britishness, which expressed posters' attempts to articulate (and contest) what it means to be British. Whilst the current analysis provides some evidence that hateful web content can fuel aggressive and hateful responses, many of the comments analysed here emphasised common group membership, alongside people’s right to claim membership in a particular social category (i.e. Britishness). The current evidence, therefore, suggests that, at least in the specific context of this study, hateful web content may not necessarily lead to an automatic endorsement or escalation of hatred.

Thematic analysis; YouTube; online hatred; national identity; racism
Author biographies

Sarah Rohlfing

Sarah Rohlfing is currently a PhD student in Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, where she also completed her BSc (Hons.) Forensic Psychology (2011). Sarah's broad research interest concern psychological processes underlying the development of online hatred. Her specific interest within this domain relates to the role of the Internet in shaping hatred.

Stefanie Sonnenberg

Stefanie Sonnenberg is currently a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Portsmouth. She completed an MSc in Economic Psychology at the University of Exeter (1998) and a PhD in Social Psychology at the University of St. Andrews (2004). Stefanie’s research interests span a range of topics within social psychology. Her specific interests within these broad domains concern the ways in which we conceptualise the ‘self’ (or identity) and the role identity processes play in understanding both social phenomena as well as individual well-being.

AFP. (2016, March 8). Australian behind Singapore hate site convicted of sedition. Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3482015/Australian-Singapore-hate-site-convicted-sedition.html

Agarib, A. (2016, January 1). Man arrested for online hate crime. Khaleej Times. Retrieved from http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20160101/ARTICLE/301019214

Allen, M., Bromley, A., Kuyken, W., & Sonnenberg, S. (2009). Participants' experiences of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: "It changed me in about every way possible". Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 413-430. https://doi.org/10.1017/S135246580999004X

Angie, A. D., Davis, J. L., Allen, M. T., Byrne, C. L., Ruark, G. A., Cunningham, C. B., . . . Mumford, M. D. (2011). Studying ideological groups online: Identification and assessment of risk factors for violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 627-657. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00730.x

Anti-Defamation League. (2005, May). Attitudes toward Jews in twelve European countries. Retrieved from http://www.adl.org/israel/Eur_Poll_Israel_May_2005.pdf

Baron, N. S. (2004). See you online: Gender issues in college students use of instant messaging. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23, 397-423. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X04269585

BBC News. (2012, February 10). Derby men jailed for giving out gay death call leaflets. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-16985147

BBC News. (2016, January 12). Teenager given probation for racist slogan. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-35294697

Blackwood, L., Hopkins, N., & Reicher, S. (2012). Divided by a common language? Conceptualising identity, discrimination and alienation. In K. J. Jonas & T. A. Morton (Eds.), Restoring civil societies: The psychology of intervention and engagement following crisis (pp. 222-236). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Blackwood, L., Hopkins, N., & Reicher, S. (2013). I know who I am, but who do they think I am? Muslim perspectives on encounters with airport authorities. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36, 1090-1108. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.645845

Blackwood, L., Hopkins, N., & Reicher, S. (2015). Turning the gaze on ‘us’: The role of authorities in the alienation of minorities. European Psychologist, 18, 245-252. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000151

Blazak, R. (2001). White boys to terrorist men: Target recruitment of Nazi skinheads. American Behavioral Scientist, 44, 982–1000. https://doi.org/10.1177/00027640121956629

Bliuc, A. M., McGarty, C., Hartley, L. K., & Muntele Hendres, D. (2012). Manipulating national identity: the strategic use of rhetoric by supporters and opponents of the 'Cronulla riots' in Australia. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35, 2174-2194. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.600768

Bostdorff, D. M. (2004). The internet rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan: A case study in website community building run amok. Communication Studies, 55, 340-361. https://doi.org/10.1080/10510970409388623

Bowling, B., & Phillips, C. (2003). Racist victimization in England and Wales. In D. Hawkins (Ed.), Violent crime, assessing race & ethnic difference (pp. 154-170). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Branscombe, N. R., Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (1999). The content and context of social identity threat. In R. Spears, B. Doosje, & N. Ellemers (Eds.), Social identity: Context, commitment, content (pp. 35-55). Oxford: Blackwell.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Burrows, T. (2016, March 23). Talent agency boss who ‘confronted a Muslim woman in London and asked her to explain Brussels’ is arrested for ‘inciting racial hatred’. Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3506275/publicity-boss-asked-Muslim-woman-street-explain-Brussels-deluged-angry-hilarious-Tweets-reply.html

Cammaerts, B. (2009). Radical pluralism and free speech in online public spaces: The case of north Belgian extreme right discourses. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 12, 555-575. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877909342479

Castle, C. (2013, October 27). YouTube awards tarnished by YouTube hate videos and jihadi recruitment. Music, Technology, Policy. Retrieved from https://musictechpolicy.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/youtube-awards-tarnished-by-youtube-hate-videos-and-jihadi-recruitment/

Charteris-Black, J. (2006). Britain as a container: Immigration metaphors in the 2005 election campaign. Discourse & Society, 17, 563-581. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926506066345

Chau, M., & Xu, J. (2007). Mining communities and their relationships in blogs: A study of online hate groups. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65, 57-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2006.08.009

Citron, D. K., & Norton, H. L. (2011). Intermediaries and hate speech: Fostering digital citizenship for our information age. Boston University Law Review, 91, 1435-1484, University of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-16.

Coffey, B., & Woolworth, S. (2004). “Destroy the scum, and then neuter their families:” The web forum as a vehicle for community discourse? The Social Science Journal, 41, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soscij.2003.10.001

Cohen, R. (1994). Frontiers of Identity: The British and others. London: Longman.

Condor, S. (1997). Having history: A social psychological exploration of Anglo-British stereotypes. In C. C. Barfoot (Ed.), Beyond pug's tour: National and ethnic stereotyping in theory and literature practice (pp. 213-253). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Condor, S. (2000). ‘Pride and prejudice’: Identity management in English people’s talk about ‘‘this country’’. Discourse & Society, 11, 175–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926500011002003

Crown Prosecution Service. (2010, February 17). Teenager admits incitement to racial hatred over YouTube videos. CPS.ORG.UK. Retrieved from http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/teenager_admits_incitement_to_racial_hatred/

Crowne, D. P., & Marlowe, D. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 24, 349-354. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0047358

De Koster, W., & Houtman, D. (2008). ‘Stormfront is like a second home to me’. Information, Communication & Society, 11, 1155-1176. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691180802266665

Doane, A. (2006). What is racism? Racial discourse and racial politics. Critical Sociology, 32, 255-274. https://doi.org/10.1163/156916306777835303

Doughty, M., Lawson, S., Linehan, C., Rowland, D., & Bennett, L. (2014). Disinhibited abuse of othered communities by second-screening audiences. In Proceedings of the 2014 ACM international conference on Interactive experiences for TV and online video (pp. 55-62). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2602299.2602311

Douglas, K. M. (2007). Psychology, discrimination and hate groups online. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U. D. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of internet psychology (pp. 155–163). New York: Oxford University Press.

Douglas, K. M., McGarty, C., Bliuc, A. M., & Lala, G. (2005). Understanding cyberhate: Social competition and group creativity in online white supremacy groups. Social Science Computer Review, 23, 68-76. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439304271538

Erjavec, K., & Kovačič, M. P. (2012). “You don't understand, this is a new war!” Analysis of hate speech in news web sites' comments. Mass Communication and Society, 15, 899-920. https://doi.org/10.1080/15205436.2011.619679

ETHNOS. (2005). Citizenship and belonging: What is Britishness? Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). London: Ethnos Research and Consultancy.

Ezekiel, R. S. (2002). An ethnographer looks are neo-Nazi and Klan groups: The racist mind revisited. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 51-71. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764202046001005

Faulkner, N., & Bliuc, A. M. (2016). “It’s okay to be racist”: Moral disengagement in online discussions of racist incidents in Australia. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39, 2545-2563. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2016.1171370

Foxman, A. H., & Wolf, C. (2013). Viral hate containing its spread on the internet. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Furnham, A. (1986). Response bias, social desirability and dissimulation. Personality and Individual Differences, 7, 385-400. https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(86)90014-0

Gawronski, B., LeBel, E. P., & Peters, K. R. (2007). What do implicit measures tell us? Scrutinizing the validity of three common assumptions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 181-193. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00036.x

Gerstenfeld, P. B., Grant, D. R., & Chiang, C. P. (2003). Hate online: A content analysis of extremist internet sites. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 3, 29-44. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-2415.2003.00013.x

Glaser, J., Dixit, J., & Green, D. P. (2002). Studying hate crime with the internet: What makes racists advocate racial violence? Journal of Social Issues, 58, 177-193. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.00255

Gleibs, I. H., Sonnenberg, S., & Haslam, C. (2014). We get to decide”: The role of collective engagement in counteracting feelings of confinement and lack of autonomy in residential care. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 38, 259-280. https://doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2014.966542

Green, D. P., Abelson, R. P., & Garnett, M. (1999). The distinctive political views of hate-crime perpetrators and White supremacists. In D. A. Prentice & D. T. Miller (Eds.), Cultural Divides (pp. 429-464). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Hardaker, C. (2010). Trolling in asynchronous computer-mediated communication: From user discussions to academic definitions. Journal of Politeness Research, 6, 215-242. https://doi.org/10.1515/jplr.2010.011

Herring, S., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R., & Brab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: “Trolling” in a feminist forum. The Information Society: An International Journal, 18, 371-384. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972240290108186

Hopkins, N., & Murdoch, N. (1999) The role of the ‘other’ in national identity: Exploring the context-dependency of the national in-group stereotype. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 9, 321-338. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1298(199909/10)9:5<321::AID-CASP510>3.0.CO;2-M

Internet Live Stats. (2016a, 21 March). Internet users. Retrieved from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

Internet Live Stats. (2016b, 21 March). Facebook users. Retrieved from http://www.internetlivestats.com/

Jacks, W., & Adler, J. R. (2015). A proposed typology of online hate crime. Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology, 7, 64-89. Retrieved from http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/18930/1/Jacks%20and%20Adler%202015.pdf

Joinson, A. N. (1998). Causes and implication of disinhibited behaviour on the internet. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications (pp. 43-60). San Diego: Academic Press.

Kazakhstan Newsline. (2015, August 3). New person sentenced for ‘inciting religious hatred’ in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan Newsline. Retrieved from http://www.newsline.kz/news.php?y=15&m=08&d=03#0

Lange, P. G. (2007). Commenting on comments: Investigating responses to antagonism on YouTube. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Tampa, Florida. Retrieved from https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/14888058/commenting-on-comments-investigating-responses-to-antagonism-

Latest.com. (2015, January 12). Kazakhstani woman facing prison time after voicing her pro-Russian stance. Retrieved from http://latest.com/2015/01.kazakhstani-woman-facing-prison-time-voicing-pro-russian-stance/

Law, D. M., Shapka, J. D., Domene, J. F., & Gagne, M. H. (2012). Are cyberbullies really bullies? An investigation of reactive and proactive online aggression. Computer in Human Behavior, 28, 664-672. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.11.013

Lee, E., & Leets, L. (2002). Persuasive storytelling by hate groups online: Examining its effects on adolescents. American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 927-957. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764202045006003

Levin, B. (2002). Cyberhate: A legal and historical analysis of extremists’ use of computer networks in America. American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 958–988. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764202045006004

McNab, H. (2015, February 12). Crucifixions and a $50 living allowance: Aussie who joined ISIS reveals what life is really like in Syria after defecting because he didn't like Westerners being executed. Daily Mail Australia. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2950469/It-s-not-like-YouTube-Former-ISIS-member-defected-terror-group-reveals-escaped-brutal-executions-Westerners-forced-out.html

McNamee, L. G., Peterson, B. L., & Peña, J. (2010). A call to educate, participate, invoke and indict: Understanding the communication of online hate groups. Communication Monographs, 77, 257-280. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751003758227

Moghaddam, F. M. (2005). The staircase to terrorism: A psychological exploration. American Psychologist, 60, 161-169. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.2.161

Mols, F., & Jetten, J. (2014). No guts, no glory: How framing the collective past paves the way for anti-immigrant sentiments. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 43, 74-86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2014.08.014

Moor, P. J., Heuvelman, A., & Verleur, R. (2010). Flaming on YouTube. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 1536-1546. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.023

Mumford, M. D., Bedell-Avers, K. E., Hunter, S. T., Espejo, J., Eubanks, D., & Connelly, M. S. (2008). Violence in ideological and non-ideological groups: A quantitative analysis of qualitative data. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 1521-1561. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00358.x

Nirvana News. (2016, January 5). Trump used in terrorist recruitment video. Nirvana News. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv1aU3pG3BQ

Osborn, A., & Dyomkin, D. (2015, December 30). Russian court jails blogger for five years for ‘extremist’ posts. Reuters. Retrieved from http://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/idUKKBN0UD16O20151230

O'Sullivan, P. B., & Flanagin, A. (2003). Reconceptualizing "flaming" and other problematic communication. New Media and Society 5, 69-94. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444803005001908

Parisi, P. (1998). A sort of compassion: The Washington Post explains the crisis in urban America. Howard Journal of Communications, 9, 187–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/106461798246989

Peddinti, S., Ross, K., & Cappos, J. (2014). On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog: A Twitter case study of anonymity in social networks. In Proceedings of the second ACM conference on Online social networks - COSN '14 (pp. 83-94). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660460.2660467

Pereira, C., Vala, J., & Costa-Lopes, R. (2010). From prejudice to discrimination: The legitimizing role of perceived threat in discrimination against immigrants. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 1231–1250. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.718

Perry, B. (2000). “Button-down terror”: The metamorphosis of the hate movement. Sociological Focus, 33, 113–131. https://doi.org/10.1080/00380237.2000.10571161

Phillips, T. (2015, December 22). Pu Zhiqiang given three-year suspended sentence. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/22/pu-zhiqiang-chinese-human-rights-lawyer-sentenced-to-three-years

Poch, R. (2015, November 15). Fighting incitement on social media, “they can’t” gets 40,000 hate videos removed from YouTube. Breaking Israel News. Retrieved from http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/53013/they-cant-launches-campaign-against-palestinian-incitement-social-media-terror-watch/#toBExsVzYqfs3VLg.97

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. (2015, July 31). Another Kazakh sentenced for inciting ethnic hatred online. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-ethnic-hatred-man-sentenced/27163239.html

Rauch, S. M., & Schanz, K. (2013). Advancing racism with Facebook: Frequency and purpose of Facebook use and the acceptance of prejudiced and egalitarian messages. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 610-615. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.11.011

Reicher, S., Haslam, S. A., & Rath, R. (2008). Making a virtue of evil: A five-step social identity model of the development of collective hate. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1313–1344. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00113.x

Risen, T. (2014, September 5). Twitter, Facebook, YouTube grapple with Islamic State censorship. US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/09/05/twitter-facebook-youtube-navigate-islamic-state-censorship

Robi, E. (2013). What computer forensics tell us about the Boston bombers. Elluma Discovery. Retrieved from http://www.elluma.com/what-computer-forensics-tells-us-about-the-boston-bombers/

Runciman, W. G. (1966). Relative deprivation and social justice. London: Routledge.

Sibbitt, R. (1997). The perpetrators of racial harassment and racial violence. London: Home Office.

Sindic, D. (2008). National identities: Are they declining? Beyond Current Horizons: Technology, Children, Schools and Families, 1-22. Retrieved from http://www.beyondcurrenthorizons.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/final_sindic_nationalidentities_20081201.pdf

Spencer, R. (2015, December 31). Kazakhstan: Convert from Islam to Christianity gets 2 years prison for inciting religious hatred. Jihad Watch. Retrieved from https://www.jihadwatch.org/2015/12/kazakhstan-convert-from-islam-to-christianity-gets-2-years-prison-for-inciting-religious-hatred

Steinfeldt, J. A., Foltz, B. D., Kaladow, J. K., Carlson, T. N., Pagano, L. A., Jr., Benton, E., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2010). Racism in the electronic age: Role of online forums in expressing racial attitudes about American Indians. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16, 362-371. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018692

Stern, K. S. (2002). Hate and the internet. New York: The American Jewish Committee.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326. https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295

Swinford, S. (2013, May 26). Woolwich attack: Google must block hate preachers, says Theresa May. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10081617/Woolwich-attack-Google-must-block-hate-preachers-says-Theresa-May.html

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-48). Pacific Grove, CA: Books/Cole.

Thomas, S. (1998). Race, gender, and welfare reform: The antinationalist response. Journal of Black Studies, 28, 419–446.

Turnage, A. K. (2008). Email flaming behaviors and organizational conflict. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 43-59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00385.x

Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J. Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A Self-Categorization Theory. Oxford & New York: Blackwell.

Turpin-Petrosino, C. (2002). Hateful sirens . . . who hears their song? An examination of student attitudes toward hate groups and affiliation potential. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 281–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.00261

Verkuyten, M. (2013). Justifying discrimination against Muslim immigrants: Out-group ideology and the five-step social identity model. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52, 345-360. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02081.x

Walters, M. A. (2011). A general theories of hate crime? Strain, doing difference and self control. Critical Criminology 19, 313-330. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-010-9128-2

Wojcieszak, M. (2010). ‘Don’t talk to me’: Effects of ideologically homogenous online groups and politically dissimilar offline ties on extremism. New Media & Society 12, 637-655. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444809342775

Young, J. (1999). The exclusive society: Social exclusion, crime and difference in late modernity. London: Sage Publications.

YouTube (n.d.). YouTube-statistics. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/en-GB/statistics.html

Zhou, Y., Reid, E., Qin, J., H. Chen, H., & Lai, G. (2005). US domestic extremist groups on the web: Link and content analysis. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 20, 44–51. https://doi.org/10.1109/MIS.2005.96





PDF views