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When Patriot Becomes Hate-triot: The Relationship Between American Identity and the Production of Cyberhate

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Abstract

Identity-based crimes are understood as crimes rooted in the perceived identity of either the perpetrator or the victim. While some research reports a relationship between the production of cyberhate and group identity, no empirical tests to date assess the strength of the identity related to the crime. We explore the relationship between American identity and the production of hate in an online setting. We draw on data from a nationally representative survey (n = 896) to examine how various dimensions of American national identity relate to the odds of producing hate in the cyber-world. Framed in modern theories of identity, we use a five-item measurement of American identity – prominence, salience, private self-regard, public self-regard, and verification—to provide a detailed exploration of how a respondent’s self-views of their American identity and understanding of how others view that identity relate to their likelihood of producing hateful online material. Using descriptive statistics and regression analyses, we find higher levels of salience and public self-regard, as well as socio-demographics such as age, ethnicity, conservativism, and living in a large city, are associated with an increased odds of producing hate. Conversely, education and living in the South are inversely related to the production of hate. The findings suggest that understanding the nuances of “what it means to be American” is an important first step toward more fully grasping the phenomenon of cyberhate. Our findings contribute to the growing body of empirical work on online extremism by demonstrating how identity affects behavior, particularly in this polarizing time when what it means to “be American” is frequently questioned.

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Data available upon request.

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Notes

  1. These terms will be used interchangeably throughout the manuscript.

  2. In addition to the analyses discussed in this section, we also tested as a series of interaction effects between the dimensions of identity and various sociodemographic traits. The interaction effects were all non-significant, however, so we chose to exclude them from the paper.

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Funding

This project was supported by Award No. 2014-ZA-BX-0014, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Odds Ratio Results, Regressing Production of Hate on Select American Identity Dimensions (n = 896)

 

All

W/O Prom

W/O Salience

W/O Private SR

W/O Public SR

W/O Verification

AID Prominence

0.919

 

0.933

0.911 + 

0.925

0.902 + 

 

(0.055)

 

(0.055)

(0.051)

(0.055)

(0.050)

AID Salience

1.110 + 

1.097 + 

 

1.109 + 

1.145*

1.075

 

(0.060)

(0.059)

 

(0.060)

(0.062)

(0.055)

AID Private Self-Regard

0.980

0.939

0.984

 

1.012

0.969

 

(0.062)

(0.056)

(0.061)

 

(0.060)

(0.061)

AID Public Self-Regard

1.106 + 

1.101 + 

1.138*

1.101 + 

 

1.108 + 

 

(0.061)

(0.060)

(0.063)

(0.057)

 

(0.060)

AID Verification

0.929

0.909 + 

0.969

0.926

0.926

 
 

(0.057)

(0.053)

(0.055)

(0.056)

(0.057)

 

Pseudo R2

0.095

0.091

0.090

0.094

0.089

0.092

  1. Exponentiated coefficients; Standard errors in parentheses; Model also controls for: White, Hispanic, female, age, education, economic engagement, conservative, Christian, lives in big city, and South.
  2.  + p < 0.10, * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.

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Reichelmann, A.V., Costello, M. When Patriot Becomes Hate-triot: The Relationship Between American Identity and the Production of Cyberhate. Am J Crim Just 46, 956–979 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-021-09659-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-021-09659-0

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