Mainstreaming the Far-Right in Media

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.

References

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

2 Replies to “Mainstreaming the Far-Right in Media”

  1. Hello Jackie,
    Thank you for this fascinating point on this class’s last topic: the media and its role. As we’ve seen throughout this class, and up until this point, far-right groups feed on this attention to not just push their narratives but also to recruit new members. As a result, social media platforms have been instrumental for these organizations to perpetuate these ideologies.
    Touching on your question posed about how social media platforms could attempt to stop the spread of these messages, I will try to give this thought an answer.
    As we see this debate rage on in the public discourse regarding free speech and the role these platforms play in this aspect, I think that many things need to occur to win against these ideologies. Number one, social media platforms need to be held accountable and openly state their political and social leanings (leading them to become publishers) and not just an ‘unbiased’ open forum for ideas. In turn, it would end the selective censoring of people on the right who use this as a reason why the far-right needs to exist. Lastly, what needs to happen is to have an open and honest discussion regarding the current state of politics in the States and Europe. This hostile name-calling and ever-polarizing environment will only lead to more division and people moving to both sides of the political fringe and create a more detrimental and ostracized society in which people become further and further apart.
    It is only with unity, collaboration, and understanding that these societies will even have a chance at beating back this rising divisive political culture on both sides of the pond.
    Thank you for this semesters interesting and informative reflections and posts. It has be a pleasure to read and engage with many of them. 🙂

  2. Jackie,
    Your point of how “a direct line to the people” being something incredibly important to the far-right stood out to me. At the end of the day, these movements are populist in nature and feed off the ability to introduce and engage individuals with the movement’s ideas, and allow supporters to engage with one another to help build up their base. Social media of course is easily the best way for this to happen, and online discourse seems to be increasingly trending towards echo-chambers and hugboxes where ideas and movements are never challenged – any dissent is met with quick recourse. The reason for the far-right going “mainstream” was simply because of the internet going mainstream before it. I agree that it is an interesting topic to end our semester on, and in the end, I feel as if the ambiguity of the future of the internet and political discourse will leave us with more questions the answers. Perhaps in a few decades, we will be able to look back and come to more concrete conclusions as to the events and effects of our modern internet.

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