Social Media and Right Wing Populism

By: Julia Aguiar

It can be said that contemporary right wing populist movements benefit from increased access and presence of social media. Social media is often used by ring wing populists to disseminate ideas and bolster legitimacy. However, in making use of social media, these populist movements engage in some paradoxes. Indeed, to consider the different ways in which populist movements utilize social media in their campaigns is to unearth some of the most deeply entrenched paradoxes in populist movements. 

Social media is based on the liberal principles of transparency and freedom of speech, which speaks to the way that the populist radical right often asserts their exclusionary politics through liberal values despite the fact that they often place themselves in opposition to left wing politics. A concrete example of this can be seen in the Charlie Hebdo debates wherein liberal democratic values of freedom of speech were used to speak out against Islam and immigration as demonstrated by Pietro Castelli Gattinara in his article “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” 

In, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe,” David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar write about the way that social media campaigns have been employed by anti-gender activists and right wing populists. Social media is useful to these groups for the way that it allows their messages to reach a larger audience in addition to offering a different form of media than that of the mainstream. Mainstream media is viewed as elitist and against the interest of “the people” for whom right wing populists claim to be fighting for. 

Facebook plays an essential role in propelling the Pegida movement forward. Indeed, given that Pegida’s Facebook group was made only a day after the movement was founded, it causes speculation as to whether or not Pegida would be the same without the social media platform. As Ina Schmidt demonstrates in her article “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement,” as much as populist movements like Pegida use social media to bolster their movements, the democratic nature of social media also means that the social media content published by right wing populist groups can be used to criticize and threaten the legitimacy of these populist groups. In many ways, social media offers a new type of rich data analyst for social scientists. 

To conclude, right wing populist groups utilize social media in order to disseminate their views and gain a wider following. In doing so they capitulate to liberal democratic values that social media is built upon including transparency and freedom of speech, which in many ways is paradoxical to their right wing agenda. However, as previously discussed, these paradoxes are not necessarily a bad think for right wing populists and are easily reconciled. It is important to keep in mind that as much as social media can be used as a tool by ring wing populists to spread vitriol, it can also be used as a tool of resistance.

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