The School of Journalism and Communication congratulates Dr. Brandon Rigato on the successful defence of his PhD dissertation, “Malicious Enclaves: Racism, Hate, and Violence in Social Media Use of Right-Wing Extremists in Canada.” Rigato defended his dissertation on May 16, 2023.

Rigato’s dissertation investigates the relationship between social media, racist forms of hatred, and violence. It specifically explores the interactions of Canadian right-wing extremists on Facebook, how they leverage the affordances of social media, and the frames they employ to maintain their belief systems.

“Right-wing extremists in Canada have received little sustained attention from academics, police and intelligence agencies,” Rigato says. “It wasn’t until around 2016 that a coordinated focus on the activities of these groups began to increase, while at the same time the activities of these groups became more highly coordinated. This really interested me when I entered Carleton’s PhD Communication program,” he explains.

Rigato says that his dissertation provides evidence for how high profile Canadian extremist groups repurpose far right ideologies and rhetorical claims from other countries for Canadian audiences. “My research identifies where these members interact online, how they communicate, and the ways they maintain their collective interests and identities.”

Rigato’s research is incredibly timely given the threat of right-wing extremism in Canada, both online and in public, and the numerous ways in which the algorithms undergirding social media platforms are both shaping new opportunities for extremist movements and torquing public discourse in harmful ways.

Rigato’s dissertation was co-supervised by Dr. Merlyna Lim, Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and the Global Network Society, director of the ALiGN Media Lab and associate professor of communication and media studies at Carleton. According to Lim, Rigato’s research urgently responds to “the escalating presence of hate speech, extremism, and other regressive phenomena on the Internet,” and “serves as a crucial reminder that devising effective prevention measures and policies necessitates a deep understanding of the behaviours and motivations of individuals involved in hate groups.”

Malicious Enclaves

“One of my project’s main contributions to knowledge is the introduction of the concept of ‘malicious enclave,’” Rigato explains. “Building upon previous scholarship, this term refers to the façade of politically oriented groups that establish veils of legitimacy to facilitate hateful and violence-endorsing views online.”

Rigato’s research was also supervised by Dr. Chris Russill, associate professor of communication and media studies and Academic Director of Re.Climate, a climate communication research and public engagement lab. For Russill, the major contribution of Rigato’s dissertation was its “detailed empirical analysis of actual conversations among far-right extremists as they responded to events and issues of the day on Facebook.” Rigato’s project is important, Russill argues, “because it illustrates how deeply woven everyday acts of communication are to the composition and growth of online networks constituted through grievance, hate, and racism.”

Dr. Tanner Mirrlees, one of Canada’s leading experts on digital media and right-wing extremism served as the external examiner of Rigato’s dissertation. In his examination report, Mirrlees described the dissertation as a “theoretically innovative and methodologically sound” investigation of the relationship between Canadian right-wing extremist groups and Meta’s Facebook. Mirrlees lauded Rigato’s study for its important conceptual contributions to research and scholarship on social media and political extremism. “’Malicious enclave’ is a new addition to the roster of critical concepts for studying right wing extremist groups in the digital age,” he says.

Rigato is currently employed in the Government of Canada as a policy analyst and continues to be a research associate in the ALiGN Media Lab. He also works as a sessional instructor in communication and media studies at Carleton University where he teaches undergraduate courses in comparative media studies and social media data analytics.

Saturday, July 1, 2023 in ,
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