ENCODED EMOTIONS: RACE, AFFECT, AND POLITICS OF BELONGING IN ELECTION-RELATED SOCIAL MEDIA
Keywords:affect, race, social media, elections, mixed-methods
Within our over-saturated digital media economy, the ultimatum of “attracting eyeballs” and attention has resulted in sophisticated new practices and technologies for exploiting and capitalizing on emotions. Tech companies and right-wing media ecosystems have mastered strategies of "hacking emotional attention" in the "race to the bottom of the brainstem” (Bosker 2016)--indeed, firms like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are clearly winning this race. Scholars increasingly address crises related to the attention economy, social media and political polarization, and far-right exploitation of media ecosystems. Yet very little scholarship systematically explores the political function of emotional expression within attention economies; to date there are few mixed-methods studies engaging feminist critical studies of emotion with political communications and social media. To better understand the "affective politics of information warfare," this talk presents findings from a research project (2019-2021) exploring how emotions circulate in social media and inflame online debate related to racial and national belonging. We integrate critical feminist studies of emotion and affect, with a cross-platform, comparative study of Twitter, Reddit and YouTube comments in the context of the 2019 Canadian and 2020 U.S. federal elections. The talk outlines divergent functions of anger expressed by diverse Canadian political groups regarding hypocrisy within debates surrounding Trudeau's "blackface" scandals, Scheer's "American identity," and post-election "wexit" debates. This presentation outlines challenges faced in mixed-methods study of emotion, as well as our innovative use of affective computing alongside discourse analysis to understand the role of emotional expression in social media platforms.