Extreme Speech Online: An Anthropological Critique of Hate Speech Debates

Matti Pohjonen, Sahana Udupa


Exploring the cases of India and Ethiopia, this article develops the concept of “extreme speech” to critically analyze the cultures of vitriolic exchange on Internet-enabled media. While online abuse is largely understood as “hate speech,” we make two interventions to problematize the presuppositions of this widely invoked concept. First, extreme speech emphasizes the need to contextualize online debate with an attention to user practices and particular histories of speech cultures. Second, related to context, is the ambiguity of online vitriol, which defies a simple antonymous conception of hate speech versus acceptable speech. The article advances this analysis using the approach of “comparative practice,” which, we suggest, complicates the discourse of Internet “risk” increasingly invoked to legitimate online speech restrictions.



online abuse, hate speech, India, Ethiopia, comparative practice, Internet risk

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