Combating extremism in a public sphere at risk: platforms' affordances, dilemmas and opportunities of social media campaigns


The spread of social media highlights controversial changes in the public sphere: new opportunities of access and expression in fact go alongside aberrant phenomena of extremist propaganda. In recent years, civil society institutions and bodies have responded to the wave of hatred and violence on social media through online awareness-raising campaigns aimed at combating ideological propaganda and offering alternative narratives to vulnerable individuals. The essay develops a critical reflection on some of these initiatives in view of social media affordances and the communication strategies adopted by promoters. What is the role of social media campaigns in consideration of the public sphere at risk? What are the limits and criticalities for issuers? What are the potential effects on audiences? Starting with a number of case histories, the contribution highlights that issuers often find themselves facing the conservative dilemma between the possibility of using social media strategically and the risk of legitimising extremist organisations that use the same media channels. The study also reveals that awareness-raising messages, developed in the form of a counter-narrative or alternative narrative, can trigger counterproductive actions such as the backfire effect which reinforce, rather than mitigate, the polarisation between individuals, particularly online, and which thereby invalidate the arguments and critical intentions of the campaigns.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22840753n15p229

Keywords: public sphere; social media; extremis propaganda

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