PART 2 DEMONSTRATES THE ANALYTIC VALUE OF “EXTREME SPEECH” by exploring emerging connections among digital humor, fun, and extreme speech. These chapters illustrate how ethnographic nuance to situational features, user cultures, and formats of online expression can reveal new areas and forms of colloquial exchange through which exclusion is normalized. This approach opens up lines of inquiry that a regulatory-normative framework might overlook.
In chapter 5, on Internet memes and “alt-right” movements, Mark Tuters and Sal Hagen examine the controversial platform 4chan and how “politically incorrect” discussion in this platform builds antisemitic discourses online. They focus in particular on what they call “memetic antagonism”—that is, the use of internet memes to construct a sense of community through the creation of a common enemy. Through the “language games” of meme production, reactionary political projects such as the alt-right are allowed to build new “hegemonic articulations.” Discussing the history of triple parentheses memes—for example, (((they)))—and its antisemitic origins, the authors observe that the situational features of 4chan push everything toward a game, the most basic “rule” of which has been the “juvenile axiom” of playful engagement that is used to excuse everything.
Sahana Udupa continues the emphasis on play and humor in chapter 6. She focuses on India and develops a theory of online fun as a “metapractice” that shapes the interlinked practices of fact-checking, abuse, assembly, and aggression among online volunteers for the right-wing movement. Being “funny” helps build prominence and can lead to validation through online virality and trending. It also celebrates aggression of group identity formation and expression. Udupa explains that digital manipulations (e.g., bots) have provoked cycles of rumor and street violence targeting minority communities and resulting in social media platforms restricting sharing. Digital and social media proponents of Hindu nationalism come from diverse backgrounds and levels of ideological commitment; Udupa notes that this strategy works with diffused logics and ties together fun and violence. What was once “fun” is used as a serious political activity that consolidates exclusionary ideologies.
In chapter 7, Carol McGranahan focuses on the United States and President Trump’s Twitter feed to make the point that information today is not merely consumed—it is created and shared as a means of creating community. She proposes that Trump’s archive should be seen as a form of extreme speech that generates not only political outrage but also specific forms of social community and action, including violent acts. McGranahan maintains that there is a scholarly responsibility to document and research the use of lies by political leaders to enable fear and “othering” and that result in hate-driven violence.
In chapter 8, Peter Hervik explores issues in Denmark through interviews and commentary on commercials and social media posts. He observes that populist pitches for power (“Elites betrayed the people”) are built on networks owned by global media conglomerates and public service stations pressured by market forces. Hervik observes that the white hegemonic majority is driven by the cultural logic of a “nation in danger.” In addition, commentators use strong language to stress negative things about the enemy to build community and comradeship (“You don’t know who you are until you know who you hate”).
Next, Amy C. Mack places the focus of chapter 9 on emerging movements of the “folk right” in the United States that use northern European culture, history, mythology, and spirituality. Identifying “Nordicism” as a prevalent theme in this phenomenon, Mack observes that the boundaries between the folk right and other right-wing groups are porous, and members and content move among groups and platforms. She notes that extreme speech can be generative, not merely destructive or simply bigoted—for example, the immigrant-as-problem meme rhetoric is grounded in “folk soul” (old gods and traditions tied to the blood and soil). By providing an ethnographic case study of Nordic-focused far-right communities on social media, the author reveals the role of memes and other online practices in constructing a collective identity rooted in Nordic exceptionalism, white supremacy, and race realism.
Gabriele de Seta turns to China in chapter 10. He recounts anecdotal experience with instant messaging apps, including the government calling the detention and indoctrination of Muslims a “vocational education and training program . . . to help eliminate the soil that breeds terrorism and extremism.” De Seta examines the growing Islamophobic sentiment on Chinese social media platforms, primarily through ethnic humor and slanderous disinformation. Users add beards, turbans, and green-and-white striped shirts to existing memes, with these figures often depicted committing acts of violence. De Seta explains how incivility is articulated through “funny” stickers that quickly connect to narratives about extremism and socioeconomic grievances.
In the final chapter in part 2, Neil Haynes focuses on Chile. Haynes explores how humorous memes express distrust and dislike for Bolivian immigrants by northern Chileans (Nortinos) and how extreme language works “insidiously to reinforce racialized discrimination.” The Nortinos build community on social media by reframing political issues and utilizing memes to gain power by denouncing others. They conflate being Bolivian with being racially inferior indigenous people while using humor in memes to mitigate the extremity of the ideas expressed. Memes are thus a central way that disenfranchised Chilean citizens reinforce a worldview in which they consider themselves deserving of greater access to resources than Bolivians, precisely because of their marginalized position in relation to the nation.