By Ali Yasin
Social media and the internet more broadly, can be seen as the most recent examples of a historical and technological trend towards the popularization of information. The ongoing development of information and communications technology has gradually widened the scope of public engagement in political, social, and philosophical discourses. This steady trajectory towards “mass society”, has been reflected in evolution of political movements across the ideological spectrum.
Both the far-right and far-left were early adopters of radio and film as mediums for political action during the early 20th century. Doing so expanding the reach of their political mobilization from the traditional property holding upper and upper middle classes, to the organizing urban workers in the case of the far-left, and the disaffected lower middle class in the case of the far-right. In both instances, their political programs took on the character of mass societal movements with revolutionary ambitions. Subsequently, liberal governments during and after the Second World War, were forced to adopt similar systems of political mobilization and governance to prevent revolution from either the right or left. This adaptation is reflected in the trans-Atlantic development of the liberal welfare state in nations across western Europe and North America, as a centrist alternative to the mass politics of the 20th century.
Now in the 21st century, the internet as the primary means of communication, has had a similar yet distinct effect on the development of contemporary politics.
While previous technologies like radio, film and TV broadcasting all expanded the general public’s capacity to receive information and narratives, the internet is the first to radically expand its ability to also construct and disseminate them as well. As a result, political activists on the far-right and far-left have once again adopted this new arena of political action and altered the character of their political movements in the process. Rather than portraying themselves as the vanguards of mass political movements like their early 20th century predecessors once did, modern activists now present themselves as agents of culture change seeking to undermine the artificial narratives of the elite and supplant them with the organic will of the people. This has inevitably given the politics of the modern far-right and far-left an increasingly populist orientation. Ironically, it has also once again led the political establishment to adopt these new modes of politics, fearing the growth of either ideology. Although some centrist politicians like Barack Obama and Emanuel Macron have had success incorporating populist energy and strategies into liberal political agendas, as the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and Macron’s drastic decline in popularity have shown, they may be quickly outpaced by the members of the far-right and their now decentralized system of narrative construction.
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Benjamin Krämer, “Populist online practices: the function of the Internet in right-wing populism” Information, Communication & Society, 20:9 (2017): 1293-1309
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List of Topics and Sub-Modules for Week 11: November 24