In an interview published in July 2021 (https://revistapesquisa.fapesp.br/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/080-083_Entrev-Benjamin_305-1-1140.jpg), the North American historian Benjamin A. Cowan (University of California in San Diego) points to Brazil as a “critical locus” for understanding the phenomenon of the so-called New Right and its unfoldings in contemporary times. Although it is a phenomenon with transnational roots and reach, the importance of Brazil is, according to Cowan, precisely in offering “an essential platform” for understanding the “cultural, moral, and political agendas that are part of our current reality”.
The papers that make up the volume Language Practices of Cyberhate in Unfolding Global and Local Realities deal with the challenge of exploring this platform from a linguistic-discursive perspective, focusing on the production and dissemination of hate speech as a relevant feature of current right-winged agendas. For this, a recent critical period was analyzed by researchers from public universities in five states in the Center, East and South of Brazil: the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, when official policies of denial of the pandemic were devised and implemented by the extreme-right federal government in power since 2018. Concurrent with these denialist policies, the country was invaded by infodemic disinformation, misinformation, and fake news flowing from national and transnational sources. Building on the findings of the existing literature on the relationship between populist authoritarianism, radical right, and digital infodemia, the analysis of the empirical data collected during the pandemic sought to apprehend the dynamics, formal configurations, and political and ideological role of the hate speech that gained prominence in this period through a linguistic and discursive lens.
Thus, the empirical data on the dissemination of topic-dependent hate speech in the information networks that drove the discussion in the public arena were gathered around two main aspects well documented by the authors. The first aspect was the proliferation of hate speech on social media and its reverberations in mainstream media and public life, especially during the vaccine crisis, produced by official anti-vax campaigns aimed at minimizing the economic effects of fighting the pandemic, in spite of the alarming increase in the number of contaminations and deaths nationwide. The premises that supported the investigation of this aspect were that for extremist activism, the internet is the battlefield, and that the severity of hate speech lies in the degree of its propagation through cyberspace and beyond – a phenomenon directly linked to the formation of hate echo chambers, already described in the literature on the dynamics of digital networks, particularly social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
` The second aspect observed, documented and analyzed by the authors was the reaction to the dynamics of hate spreading by individuals or networked communities, aiming to neutralize cyber-attacks and their effects on people’s lives and public opinion. Greater emphasis was given to linguistic and iconographic manifestations of agency and resilience of those who are most vulnerable to hateful content in the period, especially women – frequent targets of hateful discourses aligned with control, hierarchy, use of force and discriminatory values. Indeed, as in other parts of the world, including the so-called Global North, women and minorities of marginalized identities based on race, class, age, sexual orientation have been often particularly vulnerable to hate speech. Similarly, women who are more politically visible for being engaged in feminist, human rights and other social movements have also been frequent targets of coordinated cyber-attacks. The increasingly autonomous and market-oriented technological modus operandi of cyber campaigns was beyond the scope of the studies, but it offers a possible avenue for future research into how this variable affects strategies for dealing with current feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, frustration and despair, or for purposefully engaging through collective action in creating, articulating, and maintaining efforts to support or change social power structures on communication.
` Hence, one of the authors’ main concerns was to investigate relevant, measurable, detailed, and thorough examples of how these two aspects shed light on the new linguistic-discursive and iconographic configurations given to disputes around socially conservative and progressive ideas; around contemporary geopolitics and anti-communism; and around moral issues historically addressed by conservative political and religious agendas. Another concern was to show how political power has committed itself to perform a political manifestation of religious feelings and identities, particularly drawing on transnational Christian conservatism and national religious fundamentalisms, and conflating them with a perceived threat of left-wing so-called political correctness, feminism, and gender rights. Therefore, the extremely misogynistic views and anti-feminist language used in political disputes in the public arena, particularly on social media, were also examined.
As a general result, the studies compiled in the volume found that the glocal configurations of hateful discourses and practices were constituted by the affordances of the media and their algorithmic dynamics of circulation and replication of messages (text, image or sound), very well exploited by state representatives and their enablers and followers/supporters, along with the intricate connections between local practices, especially those involving public performances on social media, and the translocal contemporary global flows of written and audiovisual materials addressing socio-political, religious, and economic issues. It is important to note, however, that individuals engaged in a dispute or networked conversation were not always aware of the importance and scope of these connections in their discourses and actions. Similarly, the glocal configurations of resistance and confrontation to cyber-attacks and hate speech were found to mobilize an amalgam of resources – linguistic-discursive, socio-semiotic, and technological – embedded in linguistic and cultural practices whose origins and reach were not always identified or made explicit by their agents.
Interestingly, the concepts of glocality and glocalization that inspired the research design were crucial in addressing these issues, as they frame the transnational and transcultural significance of local disputes, illuminating their relational and fluid elements of complex causality, contrary to the representations suggested by the contemporary right-wing nationalist framework. Furthermore, the glocal frame also offers a more nuanced view of the palimpsestic nature of contemporary post-colonial contexts, such as Brazil, by highlighting fundamental linguistic-discursive and socio-semiotic mechanisms of production and circulation of meanings at different time-space scales. While the studies that comprise the volume are primarily concerned with cyber hate, they provide insightful data and directions for future research into the role of a specific tangle of dynamic and heterogeneous forces that interact in confronting common enemies designed by political polarization and populist conservatism. Understanding this issue has reached critical importance in countries of the so-called Global South. In the case of Brazil, this is also an urgent issue, as the next presidential elections are scheduled for November 2022, when the far-right government will run for re-election.