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Symbolic Violence in the Brazilian Facebook Community

The next panellist at AoIR 2013 is Raquel Recuero, whose interest is in symbolic violence in online spaces: violence which emerges from words, from discourse (and which is therefore caught up with humour and stigma). Networked publics, in which such violence circulates, are persistent and replicable.

Raquel's research investigates the Brazilian use of Facebook, and she points our that Brazilian teens are now leaving Facebook. Her study examines three Facebook meme pages: Depression Diva, which makes fun of models and other female celebrities (and whose humour about body issues, gender issues, and class divides is shared especially by female users); Sleazebag, which targets male attitudes towards women and vice versa (and is mainly about gender relations and sexuality); and Hello, Beautiful, which uses Barbie pictures to joke about body issues and sexuality.

Users - teenagers - sharing this content feel bad about the material but share it because of the humour and because their friends like it - "it's funny because it's true", because this is "how life works". It is fun to make fun of others, as long as the content does not affect the users themselves - but other teenagers have also begun to leave Facebook because they don't like the content.

Likes and comments legitimise this discourse, and shares spread it; the fact that the memes are 'humorous' is used to defend the distribution of this material, while critics are told that they have no sense of humour. This is a culture of symbolic violence, and violence which remains anonymous because it addresses stereotypical targets rather than specific people.

This discourse emerges because Facebook creates heterogeneous, weak-tie networks through which the content is shared. It is a travesty of humour, and the humorous aspects are used to legitimise the discourse; those who are targeted by this discourse are unable to respond, and thus silenced by the exchange. Such symbolic violence needs to be addressed by other means.