The affective pressures of WhatsApp: from safe spaces to conspiratorial publics

Amelia Johns, Niki Cheong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper we bring together media logics, affordances and affect theory to ask how conspiracy theory moves through WhatsApp groups and moves people through their encounters with these contents towards ‘conspiracy thinking’. Firstly, we draw upon media logic theory to examine the extent to which WhatsApp’s architecture, design and technical functions ‘steer’ users’ towards particular communication and behaviours. Second, we use affordance theory to examine how communities incorporate platform affordances into their tactics to resist, subvert or circumvent institutional power. Finally, we use theories of affect to understand whether the shared emotions and intensities that arise through encounters between digital environments and bodies of users drive experiences that bypass human cognition and representation to create ‘affective atmospheres’. We apply this integrated framework to ask whether WhatsApp’s closed infrastructure, end-to-end encryption and social features such as ‘Groups’ and the ‘forward’ button–with the embodied practices of users–shape affective environments which normalize conspiracy thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)732-746
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Early online date18 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Funding Information: We would like to acknowledge Deakin University, who provided seed funding for the project, our informants and the organizations who assisted with recruitment.


  • Telegram
  • WhatsApp
  • affect
  • affordances
  • conspiracy thinking
  • media logics
  • safe spaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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