The world is not increasingly populated by populists; the world is increasingly structured for (and by) populists

By: PSjoberg

The evolution of media, having completely transformed daily life since the new millennium, is surprisingly and shamefully overlooked as a cause of so much of the 21st century’s political events and developments. Three of this week’s readings – those by Niko Hatakka, Des Freedman, and Nicole Doerr – address this fact, diligently outlining the ways in which modern social media and online platforms directly contribute to the recent wave of right-wing populism in Europe.

Hatakka correctly identifies how right-wing populists, and people who are generally unhappy with the prevailing government in their respective countries, are able to use online forums, like Hommaforum in Finland, to stir up emotional political sentiments among voters. Hatakka also rightly states that “digital communication technologies have provided not only new tools for political organization, but a whole new logic to political identity formation and group formation.” This is the crux of the problem: so many observers are refusing to acknowledge that the world’s political landscape and means of political discourse are undergoing a foundational change. This is not simply an issue of new tools or strategies being introduced to politics, it is an issue of the norms of political discourse shifting.

Des Freedman succinctly argues that so little attention is being paid to “the structural conditions and policy frameworks that have facilitated the circulation of clickbait and misinformation.” Populist groups tend to thrive on the spread of misinformation and “click-baity” emotion-driven headlines. What people are continually failing to acknowledge is the fact that modern social media platforms also thrive off this practice, thus creating an ideal partnership between the two: populists and the media.

Nicole Doerr further expands on this general hypothesis by detailing the ways in which right-wing populists are increasingly using visual images and symbols in order to make their message at once more powerful and more international (by softening the obstacle of language barriers).

It is easy to identify the faults of political discourse. What is more difficult is to be able to accurately predict the abuse of media platforms by right-wing populists before they are able to fully muster the technology to their advantage. Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis attempt exactly this in their study of anti-minority rhetoric in Czech print media. Their article demonstrates the difficulty in identifying what is and is not considered “hate speech” and examples of “new racism.” Slavíčková and Zvagulis demonstrate in their article, perhaps in contrast to their aims, the near impossibility of creating an accurate warning mechanism for right-wing political abuse of the media.


Slavíčková, Tess and Peter Zvagulis. “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Language & Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 152–170.

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. (2017): 2022–2038.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33(6)(2018): 604-618.

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

One Reply to “The world is not increasingly populated by populists; the world is increasingly structured for (and by) populists”

  1. When laid out like this, it looks an awful lot like the whole issue of defining populism compared to fascism again, the inability to exactly predict how populist groups will use media to their advantage. I think the symbolism aspect, and the manipulation of symbols, is most interesting, given the complete wide variety of symbols used for representing populist right-wing messages.

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