The affective pressures of WhatsApp: from safe spaces to conspiratorial publics

Taylor & Francis
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Continuum, 2021, 36, (5), pp. 732-746
Issue Date:
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In this paper we bring together media logics, affordances and affect theory to ask how conspiracy theory moves through WhatsApp groups and moves people through their encounters with these contents towards ‘conspiracy thinking’. Firstly, we draw upon media logic theory to examine the extent to which WhatsApp’s architecture, design and technical functions ‘steer’ users’ towards particular communication and behaviours. Second, we use affordance theory to examine how communities incorporate platform affordances into their tactics to resist, subvert or circumvent institutional power. Finally, we use theories of affect to understand whether the shared emotions and intensities that arise through encounters between digital environments and bodies of users drive experiences that bypass human cognition and representation to create ‘affective atmospheres’. We apply this integrated framework to ask whether WhatsApp’s closed infrastructure, end-to-end encryption and social features such as ‘Groups’ and the ‘forward’ button–with the embodied practices of users–shape affective environments which normalize conspiracy thinking.
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