The Digital Age and Populism

Sara Dix

Populism and media go hand in hand. In the modern times, journalism has become incredibly important in spreading populist ideas and “fake news” which can contribute to increasing numbers of people moving to the far-right. Des Freedman’s “Populism and Media Policy Failure” discusses the failures of media to curb the spread of the far-right online. But this also goes well with the EU’s ambitious Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act.

Freedman mentions the argument that Mazzoleni makes in that all neo-populist movements rely on indirect and direct complicity with the mass media as well as politicians who are capable of being “newsmakers” themselves. This is really evident through Donald Trump who made great use of Twitter to express his opinions easily to the public whether he was factually correct or not. The use of Twitter further spread Trump’s ideas that attracted many Americans to believe his Tweets and it wasn’t until the recent attack on the Capital that his Twitter account was banned for inciting the violence.

As for the Digital Services Act, it does include rules and restrictions surrounding the scrutiny of how media platforms work, obligations for large platforms as a way to prevent abuse of their systems, and transparency rules that include online advertising and algorithms used for content recommendations for users. The Act is very comprehensive and intent on maintaining a safer and fair online presence within Europe that represents the values of the EU. While it encompasses so many obligations, it is questionable on how well it will be maintained and who is in control because depending on the Commission, it could vary as the Commission changes its leadership.

2 Replies to “The Digital Age and Populism”

  1. The problem, which goes largely uncovered in the readings, is that democratic governments are very poorly placed to actually push back against populism – assuming, as Lucas says in his post, that populism must be pushed back against.
    And this ties into the whole pitch-show we had last week regarding Q-Anon, and in the debate by William and myself: if a hallmark of democracy is that the government tolerates a diversity of opinions, and assumes something is misinformation (good intentions) until it is thoroughly proven to be disinformation (bad intentions), because anything else is to invite authoritarianism – how can a government step in? How can it mandate that journalists use specific language for the Roma, or an ethnically-even spread of witness quotes, or a given proportion of stories and narratives? Any attempt to do so would spark fears of a government takeover of media networks, and allow some politicians to cast their opposition to media as an opposition to the current party in government, rather than as a threat to a pillar of democracy.

  2. Hi! On your point about the Digital Services Act, I also doubted the extent to which it can be applied, but mainly because however well a regulation is written, loopholes always happen. But I think that you raised an issue even more important. The fact that it is held by a Commission could imply that they would have preferences on the information presented online. It could even be pushed further by thinking of bribery to put forward some websites, for example. So without actually breaking any rules, the makers could mold them to their advantage.

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