In this guide, researchers will learn the basics of studying hate, extremism, and harassment online. This guide addresses what each of these topics means, and why each area of research comes with its own definitional challenges. We will also explore how the internet has changed each of these areas of research and has introduced new considerations. Specifically, we will see how “hate” has a long history as a legal concept but may be less useful for social scientific researchers, particularly online. We will likewise explore the potential pitfalls of studying “extremism,” such as the often-incorrect assumption that extremism is necessarily a fringe phenomenon. Finally, we will explore the multiple meanings of “harassment” online and how they have shifted over time. Taken together, we will see how, across these topics, researchers may experience common challenges and embrace similar strategies.
The guide then addresses some of the key practical and ethical considerations of which researchers should be aware when they begin analysing these topics. Specifically, we will focus on the importance of reflexivity and awareness of one’s positionality; the specific challenges of recruiting participants and collecting materials from extremist spaces online; and the concerns researchers should consider when performing their analyses. Finally, we will learn the unique considerations related to publishing and potential public response. Specifically, this guide addresses the risk of potential retaliation from the groups being studied, and the actions researchers can take to mitigate potential harms.