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Pragmatics lost? : Overview, synthesis and proposition in defining online hate speech

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This article argues for a definition of online hate speech as a contextualised speech act that is part of a social process of alienation. It suggests that hate speech comes in degrees, is contextual, involves already existing power dynamics, and ‘others’ its targets by creating in/out groups. I first review the various stances towards understanding the phenomenon of online hate speech, including approaches that focus on online hate speech as an interaction shaped by its medium, while also emphasizing the need to consider the role of implicatures in speech acts when defining hate speech. Second, I argue that the relationality of online speech implies that any message is embedded in idiosyncratic socio-cultural norms, and that therefore a ‘one size fits all’ definition of hate speech is elusive. I conclude by suggesting that contextualized hate speech is embedded in a social process of alienation and should be understood as a continuum.

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Keywords: alienating speech; counter-narrative; covert hate speech; homophobia; online hate speech; sexism; societal norms

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 13, 2020

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