‘Describing gangstalking will often sound completely illogical’: Analysing a corpus of online support for sufferers of gangstalking

A seminar by Daniel Hunt (University of Nottingham)

  • Date: 03 DECEMBER 2021  from 11:00 to 13:00

  • Event location: online MS Teams - Online event

  • Type: Seminars

Gangstalking is a novel persecutory belief system in which sufferers believe they are being stalked and harassed by a large number of people. In clinical practice, sufferers are frequently diagnosed with psychotic illnesses. Gangstalking sufferers typically reject this diagnosis and seek support from like-minded others in online forums. Despite growing public interest, little is known about the nature of this condition nor the information circulated among sufferers online.

As an initial foray into understanding gangstalking as the basis for an online subculture, Andrew Lustig, Gavin Brookes and I collated a 225,000-word corpus of postings to a large online support community for gangstalking suffers, who self-identify as ‘targeted individuals’/‘TIs’. The data was examined through corpus-based discourse analysis and particularly driven by keyword analysis as a means of inductive analysis.

In this presentation I discuss the prevailing characteristics of online gangstalking discourse that mark out both the central tenets of sufferers’ belief system and its limits. Examining the corpus reveals a discursive contest between two opposing worldviews in which gangstalking is either a widespread, coordinated system of persecution or a form of psychiatric disorder. In this paper I focus particularly on the first position, illustrating the linguistic means through which TIs represent gangstalking as a real phenomenon. I also demonstrate how TIs strategically attribute mental illness to community members whose accounts are deemed too extreme, presenting a resistant discourse that ultimately serves to legitimise their own claims about the reality of their harassment.

Moving away from the online forum (and corpus methods), I also present some more recent work that examines the characteristics of YouTube videos created by TIs with the intention of documenting ‘proof’ of their harassment.