When Do Terrorist Attacks Increase Hate Speech? Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Amalia Álvarez-Benjumea  (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods)

29th novembre 2018, 13:00h, Sala Annexa (B1/-109) de la Facultat de Ciències Polítiques i Sociologia de la UAB.
We examine (i) the impact of terrorist attacks on the level of hate speech against refugees in online discussions, and (ii) the effect of terrorist attacks on social norms of prejudice expression. To this end, we report on the results of a unique combination of a natural and a lab-in-the-field experiment. We exploit the occurrence of two consecutive Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany, the Würzburg and Ansbach attacks, in July 2016. Hateful comments towards refugees, but not in other topics, increased as a result of the attacks. The experiment compares the effectiveness of censoring hate content, as means to highlight a descriptive norm against hate, before and after the attacks. People were especially reliant on normative cues in their context after the attacks. We elaborate a mechanism that explains the increase in online hate as contingent on terrorist attacks creating uncertainty about social acceptability of the public expression of hate. The implications of the findings for the literature on social norms are discussed.