Historicising the Reactionary Turn: tracing the radicalisation of image board culture

  • Stijn Peeters (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
  • Marc Tuters and Tom Willaert (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Live Stream MPI für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften Leipzig (Live Stream)


‘Image board culture’, originating from niche internet forums like 4chan, has been implicated as a source of political activism and more recently also radicalisation, having been positioned as an incubator of the ‘alt-right’ turn in international politics. Studying the discourse on these forums is therefore valuable, but complicated by the fact that it is spread out over multiple sites and the fact that image boards are sometimes ephemeral; content is automatically deleted from them after a short while.

We propose that instead of studying the image board culture directly from the forums it comprises, we can use its encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Dramatica. This wiki is not so much a collection of knowledge in the usual sense, but rather a ‘performative archive’ in which the styles, preoccupations and attitudes of the subculture writing it are archived and catalogued. In this paper, we use diachronic word embeddings to study the semantic shift of key concepts and terms across 10 years of content from Encyclopedia Dramatica. We indeed observe this shift for some of the discourse, particularly that related to the masculinist ‘manosphere’, providing an empirical account of the ‘reactionary turn’ of image board culture. We also reflect on how the affordances of wikis and this wiki in particular complicate the application of state-of-the-art NLP techniques on this type of data.

26.10.20 28.10.20

Observing debates across media platforms: tools and models - an ODYCCEUS online event

MPI für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften Leipzig Live Stream

Antje Vandenberg

Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences (Leipzig), Germany Contact via Mail

Eckehard Olbrich

Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences (Leipzig), Germany