Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Álvarez-Benjumea, A., & Winter, F. (2020). The Breakdown of Anti-Racist Norms: A Natural Experiment on Hate Speech after Terrorist Attacks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Abstract: Terrorist attacks often fuel online hate and increase the expression of xenophobic and anti-minority messages. Previous research has focused on the impact of terrorist attacks on prejudiced attitudes toward groups linked to the perpetrators as the cause of this increase. We argue that social norms can contain the expression of prejudice after the attacks. We report the results of a combination of a natural and a laboratory-in-the-field (lab-in-the-field) experiment in which we exploit data collected about the occurrence of two consecutive Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany, the Würzburg and Ansbach attacks, in July 2016. The experiment compares the effect of the terrorist attacks in hate speech toward refugees in contexts where a descriptive norm against the use of hate speech is evidently in place to contexts in which the norm is ambiguous because participants observe anti-minority comments. Hate toward refugees, but not toward other minority groups, increased as a result of the attacks only in the absence of a strong norm. These results imply that attitudinal changes due to terrorist attacks are more likely to be voiced if norms erode.

Working paper

Data and code

Álvarez-Benjumea, A., & Winter, F. (2018). Normative Change and Culture of Hate: An Experiment in Online EnvironmentsEuropean Sociological Review34(3), 223-237.

Abstract: We present an online experiment in which we investigate the impact of perceived social acceptability on online hate speech, and measure the causal effect of specific interventions. We compare two types of interventions: counter-speaking (informal verbal sanctions) and censoring (deleting hateful content). The interventions are based on the belief that individuals infer acceptability from the context, using previous actions as a source of normative information. The interventions are based on the two conceptualizations found in the literature: (i) what do others normally do, i.e. descriptive norms; and (ii) what happened to those who violated the norm, i.e. injunctive norms. Participants were significantly less likely to engage in hate speech when prior hate content had been moderately censored. Our results suggest that norm adherence in online conversations might, in fact, be motivated by descriptive norms rather than injunctive norms. With this work we present some of the first experimental evidence investigating the social determinants of hate speech in online communities. The results could advance the understanding of the micro-mechanisms that regulate hate speech. Also, such findings can guide future interventions in online communities that help prevent the spread of hate.


Working paper