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Guilt by (Free-) Association
Start Date: 3/6/2020Start Time: 3:00 PM
End Date: 3/6/2020

Event Description:

Guilt by (Free-) Association: The Online Construction of Versatile Hate Ideologies by Right-Wing Extremists and Incels

Shuki Cohen, MSc, PhD

Despite much attention to the link between the proliferation of online hate communications and the growing threat of domestic terrorism, the exact ways in which these communications account for versatile, idiosyncratic, and at times incongruent grievances are still poorly understood. Mass shooters, for example, often attempt to affect a far-reaching societal change by targeting rather specific groups, such as Jews, Muslims, Blacks, LGBT club-goers, etc. Upon investigation, however, many of those shooters seem to espouse a unique mélange of ideological tenets, political grievances and/or conspiracies carved out of a comprehensive and intricate ideological ‘universe’ of non-mutually exclusive wrongs and enemy groups.

Using models from cognitive neuroscience realized through computational linguistics measures, the presentation will examine the construction of ideological hate online on both the individual (intra-personal) and the communal (inter-personal) levels. On the interpersonal level, analysis of a large corpus (1.9 Million words) of posts from an online forum of a prominent right-wing hate group suggests a collaborative discursive structure in which users incrementally build on the grievances expressed in previous posts by associating it to another ‘enemy’ group in a non-mutually-exclusive manner.

This highly interconnected associative nature of online hate may also be detected on the individual level, and the presentation will demonstrate it using an extensive corpus of short-lived inflammatory Incels posts that were taken down shortly after publication. In them, Incel (‘Involuntary Celibate’) individuals oftentimes concurrently implicate a variety of ‘culprit groups’ as mutually reinforcing or conspiring in giving rise to their personal grievance or plight.

The presentation will use the case study of Antisemitism to exemplify 1) the inherently associative nature of online hate; 2) the versatility that this associative property confers in wielding hate against a variety of ‘culprit groups’ online; and 3) the inclusivity that it fosters in the online ‘hatosphere’ among disenfranchised individuals, who can now harbor idiosyncratic hate towards specific ‘culprits’ while still being considered by their online community as contributors to the larger cause. Antisemitism, which is curiously on the rise recently, was chosen to demonstrate the associative nature of online hate since Jews are not the primary ‘trigger’ of either Right-Wing Extremists (where the primary enemy is ‘foreigners’) or Incels (where the primary enemy is ‘women’). Only by incorporating Jews into the interconnected web of ideological hate can they become the formidable enemy that they represent in the eyes of both Right-Wing Extremists and Incels.

Taken together, the presentation will then discuss the utility of these findings in devising empirically-supported counter-messaging campaigns against online hate, and policies concerning appropriate responses to hate crimes, to avoid the inadvertent reinforcement of the hateful ideologies that may have inspired them.

About Shuki Cohen, MSc, PhD
Dr. Shuki Cohen is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at John Jay College and a member of the Graduate Center faculty, City University of New York (in both the Criminal Justice and Clinical Psychology departments). He is also the co-director of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College and an Associate Editor of 'Journal of Psycholinguistics Research.'

Dr. Cohen obtained his BSc in Biophysical Chemistry (Cum Laude) and MSc in Brain Research from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. After working as a neuroscientist at University of California, Berkeley, he received his PhD in clinical psychology from New York University. Dr. Cohen is trained in both psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapy, and have externed for 2 years with Albert Ellis at his 'Institute for Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy'. He completed his internship at Bellevue and Gouverneur hospitals in New York City, followed by a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at Yale Medical School Department of Psychiatry.

Integrating his clinical and neuroscience backgrounds, Dr. Cohen's research concern the mindset associated with violent radicalization through the linguistic analysis of politically-violent perpetrators and terrorists and their ideologues. This quantitative/computational approach to linguistics is consistent with current models of social cognition and affords a minimally-biased insight into the interplay between individual vulnerabilities and environmental/ideological factors that fostering readiness for socio-political violence. 

Location Information:
T-Building - Haaran Hall
Room: 630T
Guilt by (Free-) Association

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