By Jackie Howell
Media in all of its forms have played a key role in facilitating the spread of far-right populists’ messages. While media is not the cause of these movements, tabloid media, elite media sources, and social media platforms are responsible for their part in spurring the far-right’s current momentum. These platforms give populists a voice, regardless of the media source’s intentions. They frame certain narratives that the far-right manipulate to fit within their agendas. Far-right populists can thank the media for their visibility in mainstream news. From tabloid media circulating populists’ ideas to elite media playing a repeated message of outrage and ridicule of far-right leaders and supporters, media has given the far-right the attention they crave most – a direct line to the people.
This week’s readings illustrate how communication is key to spreading the far-right’s anti-immigrant and nationalist rhetoric. Media outlets frame narratives that influence the public’s perception of minorities, as demonstrated in the case against the Roma community in the Czech Republic. The use of tropes in media can manifest harmful stereotypes and emotive terms that evoke hatred toward minorities. Also, mainstream media’s constant repetition of its televised news cycle helps ferment these stereotypes, as repeating news stories increases the media outlet’s target audience.
In the digital age, social media platforms have become an easy way to spread populist messages. Before social media, far-right leaders relied on in-person rallies, printed manifestos, and organized meetings to spread their agendas. New forms of media are tools that can help spread messages for others to digest regardless of their location. Social media platforms are easily accessible for users of nearly all ages. This allows the far-right to reach their target audience by connecting with users that share, retweet, or post similar messages, creating an online community of far-right supporters.
Social media platforms allow the far-right to spread their culture of conspiracy theories, white nationalism, and anti-elite sentiment. Memes, videos, and blog posts allow the far-right to unite and share ideas, support sister movements, and spread via hashtags and reposts. The far-right can radicalize and influence social media users, and in turn, users can post their manifestos for others to read and copy. For example, eco-terrorists like the El Paso shooter and the Christchurch shooter (and even the mass murderer in Norway) left behind manifestos to provide a mass murder guidebook for others to follow and study.
As the course comes to an end, this week’s readings reflect on the most contemporary issue regarding far-right populism: far-right in the digital space. It is fitting that at the beginning of the course, Trump’s Twitter account was suspended, which raises the following questions: how can media and social media platforms prevent the spread of harmful messages? Is it even possible to stop or slow the spread of misinformation, racist propaganda, and far-right memes? As we move further into the digital age, it will be interesting to see how liberal democracies police the digital space without fueling far-right populists’ anti-elite rhetoric.
Freedman, D. (2018). Populism and media policy failure. European Journal of Communication, 33(6), 604-618. DOI: 10.1177/0267323118790156
Slavíčková, T., & Zvagulis, P. (2014). Monitoring anti-minority rhetoric in the Czech print media. Journal of Language and Politics, 13(1), 152-170. Doi: 10.1075/jlp.13.1.07sla
von Moltke, J. (2019). The Meme is the Message [lecture video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7e7lSGlSWs