“Influencers” – a study investigating the messages people receive about coercive control on social media

Haase, Ruby and Worthington, Rachel Elizabeth (2023) “Influencers” – a study investigating the messages people receive about coercive control on social media. The Journal of Forensic Practice . ISSN 2050-8794

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1108/JFP-12-2022-0063


Coercive control (which is a form of intimate partner violence [IPV]) is a significant public health concern affecting millions of people throughout the world. Whilst exposure to IPV in childhood and adolescence has been shown to contribute to the intergenerational transmission of IPV, this alone does not explain IPV. A range of bio-psycho-social factors contribute to IPV which includes exposure to peer influence on social media platforms, whereby research has shown this online expression of views and opinions can change off-line behaviour. This has extended to not only purchasing products but also influencing attitudes in relation to illegal behaviour such as sexual harassment and sexual assault. The purpose of this study was to explore what young people are being exposed to online, through social media, surrounding coercive controlling behaviour.

According to Fazel et al. (2021), real-time social media data can provide important information about trends in public attitudes and attitudes towards events in the news. This study used data from Twitter to explore what adolescents are being exposed to online surrounding coercive and controlling behaviour. The data was subsequently analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Three overarching themes were found in relation to coercive control: the Educator; Gaslighter; and the Comedian. Two of these were forms of secondary victimisation.

Practical implications
Social media provides a powerful platform through which people’s attitudes and behaviours may be influenced both positively and negatively in relation to socio-political issues (Lozano-Blasco et al., 2022). The implications of the findings in this study are discussed with recommendations for how social media platforms could be supported to act prevent them from being used as a tool to facilitate the distribution of hate speech in relation to IPV and instead be used as a platform for psycho-education.

Previous research in this field has tended to focus on the impact of IPV and the prevalence rates of IPV in young people, but not on the different types of information young people may be exposed to surrounding relationships on social media platforms.

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