Social Semiotics of Gangstalking Evidence Videos on YouTube : Multimodal Discourse Analysis of a Novel Persecutory Belief System

Lustig, Andrew and Brookes, Gavin and Hunt, Daniel (2021) Social Semiotics of Gangstalking Evidence Videos on YouTube : Multimodal Discourse Analysis of a Novel Persecutory Belief System. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 8 (10): 230311. ISSN 1439-4456

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Background: Gangstalking refers to a novel persecutory belief system wherein sufferers believe that they are being followed, watched, and harassed by a vast network of people in their community who have been recruited as complicit perpetrators. They are frequently diagnosed as mentally ill, although they reject this formulation. Those affected by this belief system self-identify as targeted individuals (TIs). They seek to prove the veracity of their persecution and dispute the notion that they are mentally ill by posting videos online that purport to provide evidence of their claims. Objective: The objective of the study was to characterize the multimodal social semiotic practices used in gangstalking evidence videos. Methods: We assembled a group of 50 evidence videos posted on YouTube by self-identified TIs and performed a multimodal social semiotic discourse analysis using a grounded theory approach to data analysis. Results: TIs accomplished several social and interpersonal tasks in the videos. They constructed their own identity as subjects of persecution and refuted the notion that they suffered from mental illness. They also cultivated positive ambient affiliation with viewers of the videos but manifested hostility toward people who appeared in the videos. They made extensive use of multimodal deixis to generate salience and construe the gangstalking belief system. The act of filming itself was a source of conflict and served as a self-fulfilling prophecy; filming was undertaken to neutrally record hostility directed toward video bloggers (vloggers). However, the act of filming precipitated the very behaviors that they set out to document. Finally, the act of filming was also regarded as an act of resistance and empowerment by vloggers. Conclusions: These data provide insight into a novel persecutory belief system. Interpersonal concerns are important for people affected, and they construe others as either sympathetic or hostile. They create positive ambient affiliation with viewers. We found that vloggers use multimodal deixis to illustrate the salience of the belief system. The videos highlighted the Derridean concept of différance, wherein the meaning of polysemous signifiers is deferred without definitive resolution. This may be important in communicating with people and patients with persecutory belief systems. Clinicians may consider stepping away from the traditional true/false dichotomy endorsed by psychiatric classification systems and focus on the ambiguity in semiotic systems generally and in persecutory belief systems specifically.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Medical Internet Research
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©Andrew Lustig, Gavin Brookes, Daniel Hunt. Final published version Lustig A, Brookes G, Hunt D Social Semiotics of Gangstalking Evidence Videos on YouTube: Multimodal Discourse Analysis of a Novel Persecutory Belief System JMIR Ment Health 2021;8(10):e30311doi: 10.2196/30311 is available in JMIR Mental Health
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? internetdiscourse analysispsychosisdelusionsemioticslinguisticscomputer-mediated communicationschizophreniaehealthvideocommunicationyoutubesocial mediadiscoursemental healthhealth informatics ??
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05 Oct 2021 15:20
Last Modified:
07 Nov 2023 23:50