Challenging Online Fear and Othering

Timeframe: 2014-2018
Funder: ESRC

CuRAtOR was a three-year multi-disciplinary research project which investigated the cultures of fear that are propagated through online othering, and set out to explore how this can lead to subsequent mistrust and stigmatization of groups or communities. The project also set out to explore how new interactive digital experiences might be designed to counteract the resultant problematic outcomes of othering, and lead to more critical and balanced online debate around contemporary socio-political issues.

Cultures of fear can be propagated, either deliberately or unwittingly, by a wide range of agents including the media, government, science, the arts, industry and politics. The ease with which fear can be generated means that society remains inordinately fearful of improbable harms and dangers. A good deal of societal fear stems from mistrust of the other; a term used to describe individuals or groups that are, quite simply, ‘not like us’. While recognition of difference is central to the construction of cultural and societal identity, it also leads to others being seen as “anomalous,” “peculiar,” or “deviant”, and hence being negatively perceived, stigmatised, excluded, marginalised and discriminated against.

In the project we were interested in how online platforms and social media helped propagate some of these issues, either through their designed features and functions or through how they were adopted and used by organisations and agencies. For example, we looked at how Twitter became used a place for stigmatising welfare state claimants, and how broadcast media stimulated such othering. We also looked at how social platforms were used by grassroots and state agencies to counter such othering. This led to the development of a series of digital prototypes, each of which took different approaches to countering online other practices by promoting more critical engagement with broadcast media, with online news, and with the information people share on sites like Twitter.