Abstract: Today, aggressive verbal behavior is generally perceived as a threat to integrity and democratic quality of public discussions, including those online. However, we argue that, in more restrictive political regimes, communicative aggression may play constructive roles in both discussion dynamics and empowerment of political groups. This might be especially true for restrictive political and legal environments like Russia, where obscene speech is prohibited by law in registered media and the political environment does not give much space for voicing discontent. Taking Russian YouTube as an example, we explore the roles of two under-researched types of communicative aggression—obscene speech and politically motivated hate speech—within the publics of video commenters. For that, we use the case of the Moscow protests of 2019 against non-admission of independent and oppositional candidates to run for the Moscow city parliament. The sample of over 77,000 comments for 13 videos of more than 100,000 views has undergone pre-processing and vocabulary-based detection of aggression. To assess the impact of hate speech upon the dynamics of the discussions, we have used Granger tests and assessment of discussion histograms; we have also assessed the selected groups of posts in an exploratory manner. Our findings demonstrate that communicative aggression helps to express immediate support and solidarity. It also contextualizes the criticism towards both the authorities and regime challengers, as well as demarcates the counter-public.
Keywords: communicative aggression; hate speech; networked discussions; obscene speech; political protest; Russia; verbal aggression; YouTube