Explaining online conspiracy theory radicalization: A second?order affordance for identity?driven escalation

Jan 17th, 2023 | By | Category: RSS Feed


From #Pizzagate to anti-vaxxers, passing by 9/11 or Obama ‘birthers’, we have seen many communities growing on social media around conspiracy theories and thereby gaining public prominence. Debunking or presenting alternative views to conspiracy theories often fails because individuals within these communities can grow more resolute, encouraging and reinforcing their beliefs online. Instead of withering in the face of contradiction, such communities hunker down; escalating their commitment to their conspiratorial beliefs. By interacting over social media platforms, they develop a sense of a shared social identity, which in turn fosters escalating behaviours and can lead to radicalization. For some people, the choice of abandoning or moderating these beliefs is unthinkable because they are too deeply invested to quit. This study advances a second-order affordance for identity-driven escalation that explains the process of conspiracy theory radicalization within online communities. We offer a theoretical account of the way social media platforms contribute to escalating commitment to conspiracy radicalization. We show how the sequential and combined actualization of first-order affordances of the technology enables a second-order affordance for escalation.


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