Linguistic strategies for managing online reputation in the era of political trolling: the case of Twitter-discourse between Zimbabwean political actors.
Tshetu, Peter Junior.
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The issue of personal attacks is pronounced in political contexts, with the discourse being instrumentalised for reputational warfare and reputational capital. In many cases, the victims of such discourse are character assassinated, defamed, humiliated, and demeaned. Thus, currently, there is an existing risk of losing a network of relationships which enables the political society to function effectively, as expected in a democracy such as Zimbabwe. The study aims at establishing strategies for linguistically managing online reputation within political discourses. It has the following main objectives: (1) To identify the non-politic linguistic strategies utilised in political trolling by Zimbabwean political actors on Twitter (now X). (2) To establish the component of face predominantly targeted in personal attacks on Twitter by Zimbabwean political trolls and (3) To establish linguistic strategies which can be utilised to redress face-threatening acts on digital platforms such as Twitter. The study takes a qualitative paradigm which informs the data collection and analysis, with the selection of data based on purposive sampling. Three theories underlie this study, namely: the Face Constituting Theory (FCT) (Arundale, 2010), the Politeness Theory (PT) (Brown & Levinson, 1987) and the Public Sphere Theory (PST) (Habermas, 1964) plus Culpeper (2011)’s four key aspects of impoliteness and Culpeper (2005)’s super-strategies for obtaining impoliteness. The research also takes a two-tier approach differentiating between a first- and a second-order level of analysis. The findings of this study are threefold. Firstly, there are six non-politic linguistic strategies commonly employed in political trolling within the Zimbabwean Twittersphere; these include: insults, pointed criticisms, unpalatable questions, condescensions, dismissals, and threats. Secondly, the study reveals that the positive face is the predominantly targeted face in personal attacks on Twitter. Thirdly, the study establishes three face-saving strategies. These are, claiming common ground, conveying that speaker and addressee are co-operators and fulfilling the addressee’s want.