Humorous hate speech on social media: A mixed-methods investigation of users’ perceptions and processing of hateful memes

Schmid, Ursula Kristin
New Media & Society

Humor that denigrates social groups can be just as harmful as hate speech. Despite research indicating the prevalence of humorous hate speech, how audiences perceive and process the combination of humor (e.g. irony as a humor cue) and hate speech (e.g. dehumanization as a hate cue) remains unclear. Using a sequential mixed-methods approach combining a qualitative think-aloud study (Study 1, N = 41) with an experiment involving implicit measurements of response times (Study 2, N = 65), it was examined how individuals perceive memes that contain both humor and hate cues. While think-aloud interviews indicated that processing humorous hate speech may require multiple steps, the relative time spent by participants in Study 2 to rate humorous and non-humorous hate speech as being hostile or not did not entirely support that conclusion. However, findings imply that hostile views may become more commonplace when hate speech is masked by humor.