call for papers: the rapid spread of provocative content on social media

Collaborative Work and Social Media: 
Responding to the rapid spread of provocative content

Special Issue call for the Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work 

Deadline for submissions March 7th 2016                                          

 The rapid spread of provocative content on social media

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr etc. create new spaces in which users can ‘meet’, interact and exchange content. This content is often then forwarded on through shares, retweets etc. so that single posts can be seen and responded to by multiple others. Our modern status of hyperconnectivity means that social media content can spread spontaneously across the globe in a very short period of time. As social media platforms have gained in popularity over the last ten years they have become particularly associated with the posting and rapid spread of provocative content. This provocative content may take various forms including: extreme or inflammatory sentiment – in particular relating to politics, class, race, sexuality or gender; inflammatory or incendiary comments directed towards particular individuals or groups; commentary and speculation regarding unfolding social events and crises; political debates and campaigns; and humanitarian and solidarity messages and campaigns.

Provocative content on social media can undoubtedly take constructive forms – for instance in the galvanising of a clean-up effort after the London riots of 2011 and the spread of solidarity messages such as #JeSuisCharlie #BlackLivesMatter. However much public and political attention has focused on the prevalence and rapid spread of more negative content such as hate speech, harassment and unverified rumour. Concerns have been expressed over the harms this content can cause to individuals, groups and populations, and questions have been raised over how social media can and should be regulated. Provocative content at times overlaps with illegal content and in some countries may be actioned under civil or criminal codes in relation to defamation, hate crime etc. However many kinds of provocative content do not breach any legal codes. Similarly, most social media platforms adopt terms of use that enable them to remove certain kinds of offensive or harmful material where necessary but allow users to post provocative content of various kinds. Indeed, many of these platforms are run on principles supporting freedom of expression and actively uphold the right for posts and posters to be provoking and/or inflammatory. 

A 2013 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) characterises contemporary concerns over the spread of provocative content across social media. The report highlights the global risk factor of ‘digital wildfires’: scenarios in which provocative content involving multiple users spreads widely and rapidly across social media and results in serious negative offline consequences. For example the massive spread of misinformation can harm the reputation of individuals, organisations and markets before there is a chance to correct it. Alternatively, abusive and incendiary messages can cause considerable harm to individuals and generate social tension during critical events such as civil disturbances, health scares and natural disasters. The WEF report argues that the risks posed by digital wildfires prompt re-evaluation of the current governance of digital social spaces. This may take the form of new legal or technological restrictions on content balanced against the principle of freedom of speech. Alternatively, there is scope to promote a ‘global digital ethos’ by encouraging social media users to behave responsibly in the monitoring and regulation of their own and others’ online behaviours.

CSCW and social media

Work conducted within the framework of computer supported cooperative work offers to greatly advance understanding of the rapid spread of provocative content on social media. In the first instance, CSCW perspectives can shed light on the role of collaboration in the occurrence of these socio-digital phenomena. Relevant research questions include: how does the rapid spread of different kinds of provocative content occur in real time? How do social media users, who may not even know each other, collude and collaborate to enable to spread this content? How might these users collaborate to adopt responsible online behaviours and what forms would these behaviours take? How can the online and offline consequences of provocative online content be identified, assessed, replicated and understood? What roles can different forms of regulation play in the management of the spread of provocative content and the pursuit of a global digital ethos? 

In addition, CSCW approaches also support collaborative interdisciplinary research on the prevalence of provocative content on social media. For instance, opportunities exist in: collaborative and crowd source coding for phenomena such as the spread of rumour or hate speech; the co-design of digital tools or platforms capable of scoping and analysing the propagation of provocative content; and collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to ethics and responsible innovation with regard to social media.

Journal special issue

The special issue takes up these research opportunities by exploring the relationships between collaborative work and social media in the context of the rapid spread of provocative content. For this special issue we welcome contributions including, but not limited to:

Case studies or comparative analyses of social media phenomena involving the rapid spread of provocative content.

Papers that report on the ‘collaborative work’ of digital agents in propagating, responding to and regulating the content and diffusion of provocative content on social media. This may include: the design and use of digital tools/platforms to scope and assess online content; crowd-source coding for provocative content; or qualitative examinations of the lived orderliness and practical accomplishment of social media interactions

Examinations of governance practices relating to the regulation of digital social spaces. For example, work based ethnographic studies of social media regulation and response to the spread of provocative content during critical events such as disasters, civil emergencies or public health scares.

Papers that report on collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to ethics and responsible innovation for the governance of digital social spaces. 

Papers that report on the opportunities and challenges presented by the collaborative interdisciplinary study of the spread and prevalence of provocative content on social media.

We seek contributions from a range of disciplinary backgrounds that can advance theoretical, practical, technical and/or social understandings in CSCW and related fields.

Submission details and further information

Please submit your paper by March 7th 2016. Round 1 notifications will be sent in mid-June 2016.

Manuscripts must follow the journal’s format standards. See Instructions for Authors (pdf, 366 kB) .

Submit manuscripts to and indicate in your cover letter that the submission is for the special issue.

For questions and queries please contact coordinating guest editor

The special issue forms part of the ongoing research project ‘Digital Wildfire: (mis)information flows, propagation and responsible governance’.