Challenging Online Fear and Othering

Funder: ESRC, EPSRC, AHRC and Dstl


Team: Shaun Lawson, John Vines, Tom Feltwell, Gavin Wood, Kiel Long, Ioannis Petridis, Scarlett Rowland (Northumbria University); Julie Barnett, Phil Brooker (University of Bath), Vanessa Pupavac, Karen Salt (Univeristy of Nottingham).




Timeframe: 2014-2018

CuRAtOR was a three-year multi-disciplinary research project which investigated the cultures of fear that are propagated through online othering, and set out to explore how this can lead to subsequent mistrust and stigmatization of groups or communities. The project also set out to explore how new interactive digital experiences might be designed to counteract the resultant problematic outcomes of othering, and lead to more critical and balanced online debate around contemporary socio-political issues.


Cultures of fear can be propagated, either deliberately or unwittingly, by a wide range of agents including the media, government, science, the arts, industry and politics. The ease with which fear can be generated means that society remains inordinately fearful of improbable harms and dangers. A good deal of societal fear stems from mistrust of the other; a term used to describe individuals or groups that are, quite simply, ‘not like us’. While recognition of difference is central to the construction of cultural and societal identity, it also leads to others being seen as “anomalous,” “peculiar,” or “deviant”, and hence being negatively perceived, stigmatised, excluded, marginalised and discriminated against.


In the project we were interested in how online platforms and social media helped propagate some of these issues, either through their designed features and functions or through how they were adopted and used by organisations and agencies. For example, we looked at how Twitter became used a place for stigmatising welfare state claimants, and how broadcast media stimulated such othering. We also looked at how social platforms were used by grassroots and state agencies to counter such othering. This led to the development of a series of digital prototypes, each of which took different approaches to countering online other practices by promoting more critical engagement with broadcast media, with online news, and with the information people share on sites like Twitter.

------- CoCreate members working on this project:

------- Publications related to this project:


Feltwell, T., Wood, G., Rowland, S., Long, K., Elsden, C., Brooker, P., Vines, J., Briggs, P., Barnett, J., and Lawson, S. 2019. Designing Second-Screen Experiences for Social Co-Selection and Critical Co-Viewing of Reality TV. In: Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19), In Press.



Brooker, P., Barnett, J., Vines, J., Lawson, S., Feltwell, T., and Long, K. 2018. Doing stigma: Online commenting around weight-related news media. New Media & Society, 20 (9), pp. 3201-3222.



Brooker, P., Barnett, J., Vines, J., Lawson, S., Feltwell, T., Long, K., and Wood, G. 2018. Researching with Twitter timeline data: A demonstration via “everyday” socio-political talk around welfare provision. Big Data and Society.



Wood, G., Long, K., Feltwell, T., Rowland, S., Brooker, P., Mahoney, J., Vines, J., Barnett, J., and Lawson, S. 2018. Rethinking Engagement with Online News through Social and Visual Co-Annotation. In: Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’18), Article 576.



Feltwell, T., Wood, G., Long, K., Brooker, P., Schofield, T., Petridis, I., Barnett, J., Vines, J., and Lawson, S. 2017. “I’ve been manipulated!”: Designing Second Screen Experiences for Critical Viewing of Reality TV. In: Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’17), pp. 2252-2263.



Feltwell, T., Vines, J., Salt, K., Blythe, M., Kirman, B., Barnett, J., Brooker, P., and Lawson, S. 2017. Counter-Discourse Activism on Social Media:
The Case of Challenging “Poverty Porn” Television. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 26 (3), pp. 345-385.



Long, K., Vines, J., Sutton, S., Brooker, P., Feltwell, T., Kirman, B., Barnett, J., and Lawson, S. 2017. “Could You Define That in Bot Terms?”: Requesting, Creating and Using Bots on Reddit. In: Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’17), pp. 3488-3500.