University of Leicester
2022MurphyAPhD.pdf (4.83 MB)

How does political rhetoric influence hate speech?

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posted on 2022-09-09, 09:48 authored by Alexander Murphy

In recent years, populist and outsider political candidates have met with unprecedented success across much of the Western world, a development often associated with disaffection with mainstream politics and concern over social change. Increases in the extremeness of political rhetoric were evident in the UK’s EU referendum campaign, Donald Trump’s US presidential campaigns and tenure, and in the domestic politics of Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands, amongst others. This rhetoric frequently revolves around notions of national identity and economic deservingness. While the nature and prevalence of hate crime is associated with broader social trends and sentiments, the impact of political rhetoric on hate crime victimisation has remained comparatively underexplored. With hate speech having increasingly migrated into online spaces, and a general lack of recourse for victims, the prospective role played by political messaging in fomenting social division and hate crime victimisation is a pressing concern. Politicians, with their public accountability and influence, bear particular responsibility for the impacts of their words. This research provides insights into the political dimensions of hate speech in a contemporary UK context, using a novel qualitative methodology to examine a unique collection of UK hate crime trigger events. Through Critical Discourse Analysis of UK political rhetoric and thematic analysis of tweets collected from Twitter in the wake of antecedent hate crime events (namely four UK terrorism-adjacent incidents), this research explores the relationship between online hate speech and the discourses promoted by politicians. It offers an analysis of contemporary themes in both hate speech and political rhetoric; indicating that explicitly racist, Islamophobic, and violent themes are present within the Twitter reaction to all four trigger events, with exclusionary rhetoric promoted by UK politicians and replicated in the Twitter reaction. More ameliorative rhetorical contributions are generally lacking or absent. It also contributes to evidence on the differences between trigger event impact, highlighting the significance of race or religious themes and violence, and ultimately addresses a longstanding gap in the literature by evidencing the role that political rhetoric plays in hate speech. Politicians play a role in reinforcing the spread of the negative discourses which saturate Twitter and promote division. More consistent and measured rhetorical responses from politicians are one way in which rampant misinformation and abuse can be countered.



Stevie-Jade Hardy; Neil Chakraborti; Chris Allen; Dylan Kerrigan

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Criminology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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