With the final reading response of the semester, we have come full circle: In Week 2 on Defining Terms, I wrote the following:
Defined as “a set of ideas focused on a fundamental opposition between the people and the elite,” I believe populism has in part gained prominence due to increased online connectivity. The media landscape today…allows for a broader range of opinions and values.
Week 11’s readings echoed the above idea that populist parties have utilized online environments to connect and mobilize a broader audience of potential voters. Hatakka notes the rise of right-wing populism in Europe has coincided with online far-right activism. According to Mudde, this is no mere coincidence: today’s media landscape has provided access and coverage for populist politicians that were not formerly available.
While an engaged populous is good for democracy, there are dangers with the modern day networked society. As indicated by Slavíčková & Zvagulis and Doerr, “new racism” has emerged and consequently facilitated hate speech in the media. Slavíčková & Zvagulis’s study considers how new racism is found in the wording of news stories, including journalistic skewing and the absence of minority voices. Doerr’s take on new racism instead looks at media imaging, specifically arguing how visual devices like political cartoons reinforce anti-immigrant discourse. This likens back to the Matthews article, as he argues European right-wing populist parties such as UKIP, Front National and AfD have used the media to spread anti-immigration messaging, in particular racist messaging against Islam.
Hate speech is certainly not new to Europe: Göle harkens back to the destruction of the Mostar Bridge— a symbol connecting the Muslim and Christian communities in Bosnia—was strategically shelled as a not so subtle religious statement by Croatian gunman while fighting the Bosnian Muslims. However, the “connective action” online phenomenon described by Hatakka offers much different conditions for media networking as what came before. Now, the internet has eased the ability for people with similar political interests to meet, organize, debate and expand their outreach like never before.
While increasing online engagement is often positive for society, Freedman argues the current liberal approach to media policy has enabled the far-right to exploit communication systems. Notably, populists have effectively spread political messages based on sentiment over fact. This is important, as Feldmen argued in Week 2 how notes how nationalism morphed into fascism by going beyond politics and building a king of “political religion.” As we see populist leaders have continually played on people’s emotions, Freeman emphasizes the dangers of the policy inaction to mediate racist populist messaging and skewed media environments.
At the conclusion of the semester, I still believe my words from Week 2, that “under a democratic democracy, we will not see the likes of fascism in the West reborn.” However, after Week 11, I believe the knock-on effects of a run-away media landscape dominated by right-wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric cannot be ignored.