From Dark Personalites to Dark Participation
Understanding how dark traits play out IRL is key for a better shared future.
Recently, I enjoyed the opportunity to email interview Thorsten Quandt, professor and dean at the University of Münster in the Department of Communication, about his substantial work on “dark participation,” a term he originated to describe the “bleak flip side” to selfless, democratically motivated participation in online media. Dr. Quandt is a primary investigator on such topics as disinformation on social media, digital games, participatory journalism, conspiracy theory and online belief communities (“patchwork religions”), and how social issues emerge in our complex media environment.
What is “dark participation”?
Dark participation is marked by negative, selfish, or even deeply sinister contributions. I introduced this concept to challenge the normative-or, depending on one’s viewpoint, utopian-idea of participation that was extremely popular in the early 2000s.
At that time, academics were very enthusiastic about online communication’s potential, dreaming of a society where everyone would engage in democratic discourse. They viewed online communication as a potential “savior” for democracy and Western liberal ideals. The unrestricted flow of information, where everybody contributes, was even seen as a way to overthrow dictators and authoritarian regimes. While this might sound naïve now, only a few scholars anticipated the rise of large-scale online hate or manipulation through fake content. Even fewer envisioned a scenario where said regimes would exploit a darker form of participation for their ends.
So this idealistic view of participation collided with the more complex realities of human nature and societal behaviors. Clearly, not everyone is motivated to participate, and when they do, their motivations often diverge from the altruistic desire to benefit democracy or the well-being of others.
Why is the concept of dark participation particularly timely now?
There’s been an uptick in behaviors that deviate from the idealized notion of participation. Today, academics are deeply concerned about issues…