Charlotte Alm. Photo: Jens Lasthein

“What we do and who we are online has always interested me. What we can expose each other to is the dark side of the internet. This is a very complex phenomenon. To really get to understand it, we need to approach it from several directions,” says Charlotte Alm, docent at the Department of Psychology, who has taken the initiative for the project “Strategies and normalisation processes of online hate among victims and perpetrators and in civil society”.

The group of researchers also includes Janne Flyghed, professor of criminology, Ali Osman, docent in pedagogics and Mårten Schultz, professor of law. In 2018, they received money from the digital human science initiative. This gave them the opportunity to create a joint project, as well as time to apply for external funding. Now the researchers are awaiting a decision on money for a pilot project and in the spring they will apply for a larger grant from the Swedish Research Council. Online hate is a phenomenon that affects many research disciplines and fits well with the definition of digital human science.
“It is exciting to work across departmental boundaries: you find things that you might otherwise have missed. Within your own discipline, you might take things for granted, but when you meet someone from another background it makes you stop and really consider what you believe,” says Charlotte Alm.

Little research in the area

They will investigate different aspects of online hate in four different part-studies. How does the person who has been exposed to hate handle the situation?  What help is there and how is it matched with needs? How does the perpetrator explain his or her behaviour? How can the law help individuals and organisations? These are some of the questions the group hope to find answers to. Although online hate is an established concept, there is relatively little research in the subject. The group wishes to know more about what happens in the wide gap between the number of victims and the few incidents that result in prosecution. How is this handled? For example, is there a risk that online hate is being normalised?

The researchers hope to be able to gather data and then understand it from four different perspectives. Something that could be both enriching and challenging. Different concepts and theories can be used to explain the same things.
“For example, Janne takes the criminologist’s view. When she looks at how perpetrators rationalise the fact that they are exposing someone to hate, there are corresponding concepts in psychology, but perhaps we talk more about causal explanations and attribution. These are not exactly the same things and the same theories, but we understand what the other person is talking about.”
Charlotte Alm is positive about the university’s digital human science initiatives.
“The digital world will not get smaller. The next generation will not even make the same division between the digital world and the real world.”