How do we interact with and encounter each other online? What affects and emotions do we vent and exchange on the Internet and in what ways? And how do the specific forms of interaction that we cultivate online take part in shaping who we are and the world we live in? These are some of the questions that the project on "Online Interaction Forms" set out to find answers to in debate forums and on social media. It approached them from a psychosocial perspective.
But what exactly does it mean to take a psychosocial approach to online interaction? Taking the oft-discussed issue of narcissism in social media as an example: From a psychosocial perspective, in order to test the validity of a claim such as 'Social media breeds narcissism', we would have to approach it from various sides. Thus, we would look into how individual dispositions (i.e. the attitudes and actions that come most easily to us), social pressures (the attitudes and actions that are implied in widely held norms and social institutions) and technological affordances (i.e. the uses implied in the design of digital media) come together and create a dynamic that might then be identified with narcissistic traits. For example, as concerns the technology, most social media platforms not merely require us to interact with others in certain ways - befriend them, follow them, like them, share what they post etc. - they also make us incessantly point towards ourselves while performing these tasks. - See! I am befriending/liking/following! - This, then, is a narcissistic trait built into the technology itself.
As concerns social structure, the above techno-narcissism would also have to be seen as functioning within a marketing logic which invariably makes us try to give a good impression of ourselves in public as a proven way of becoming successful in society. Like it or not, a public-relations logic permeates much of our everyday lives now and this logic must be seen as a socio-narcissistic trait. So, there is also something in society itself that suggests for us to become narcissists.
Finally, as concerns the psychological level, even though the individual might not be consciously aware of the pressures and affordances in play in social media, s/he might nevertheless be driven by a certain unease and the wish to maintain benign relations out of a vague fear that not doing so might take its toll at some point. From the perspective, the excessive preoccupation with oneself, which we often identify as narcissism, might turn out to be fed by the anxious question of 'Am I good/popular/nice enough?'. Hence, a psychosocial approach finds depth, complexity, and not least: empathy in seemingly simple and straightforward observations, such as 'Social media breeds narcissism'.
Along the above lines, the project has analysed political discussions in online forums and on social media platforms against the general rise of populist and xenophobic sentiment across Europe. If there is one overarching finding, one major take-away from the project's publications, then that online phenomena, such as trolling and hate speech, and more general political phenomena, such as radicalisation and the rise of populism, should by no means be seen as deriving exclusively from the proliferation of digital media. Rather - and in parallel to the narcissism example above - the project's results show that there are many aspects coming together in the making of these phenomena and the ways in which they come to bear on society. Page design, user interface and interactive functions, the editorial policies and moderating practices, a given platform's business model and the way this model feeds into wider cultural practices, social structures and political movements, as well as the individual user's sense of self - they all play their part in shaping the phenomena that we are confronted with - and often troubled by - online.
With these aspects in focus, the project produced new knowledge in the following fields:
- The relationship between commentators and online forums/ platform.
- The political dimensions of affective work in online debate.
- Typical characteristics of right-wing populism online.
- The relationship between political violence and the virtual in right-wing online forums.
For a complete list of publications and links to online versions of the articles, please visit: www.steffenkruger.com
(As agreed upon with Siri Tønseth [telephone conversation 15/01/2019]):
Please consult the uploaded "Results Report" document for a detailed comparison of the outcomes and impacts that I anticipated/suggested in the application and the project's actual results, outcomes and impacts!
This project analyzes the affective content of the online news discussion forums of mainstream yellow-press news media. The attacks of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and on Utøya in 2011, as well as the financial crisis and the general rise of reactionary and xenophobic sentiment across Europe, which were amplified and driven by online networking and forum debates, brought home the need to find out more about debates in online forums and what emotive functions and socializing effects these forums have for and on their users. The proposed study intends to address these problems directly. Its overall aim is to find answers to the following pressing questions:
1.) What are the affective dispositions, interaction forms, and relational styles performed and cul tivated within the online discussion forums of the yellow-press news media in Europe (thesun.co.uk; bild.de; vgd.no compared to others)? And what is the discursive nature of communication produced in them?
2.) How do the findings produced in 1.) apply to the results of research into the demographics, behavior and political attitudes of forum participants? How can they be understood when brought face to face with the editorial policies and moderating practices of the (privately owned) news platforms hostin g the forums?
3.) Against these findings: What are the potential consequences of the cultivated dispositions and forms of interaction ? their risks and dangers ? for social cohesion?
4.) And finally: how can a specific psychological approach, which takes unconscious mechanisms into account, deepen the understanding of these processes?
I will follow up on those questions by employing the depth-hermeneutic method of "scenic understanding" (Lorenzer, 1973; 1986). While this method is specifically geared to locate and identify the latent affects and conflictual dynamics in the interplay of individuals and their institutions, it has not been applied to online communication before.