added 2 research items
Going Dark. The secret social lives of extremists is a real page turner. It is a well structured book that gives the reader basic information on how the global far right and radical Islamists use digital media in their (meta)political battle. It is a perfect introduction to the dark corners of the world, but don't expect it to do more than that.
Forum for Democracy (FvD) is a political party on the rise in the Netherlands. Thierry Baudet, the conservative revolutionary and dandyesque leader of the party, positions himself and his party as right-wing and as an acceptable ideological alternative to all the other Dutch parties. All media controversies about his radical right ideology are labelled by Baudet as the work of opponents trying to frame him and the party in a negative way. A careful analysis of WhatsApp messages of the youth divisions of the party, however, shows a different reality. The analysis of 900 Whatsapp messages of FvD-militants shows that mass media reporting helps shape a metapolitical discourse without 'de-radicalizing' the core ideology. How Thierry Baudet uses controversy to normalize his ideology Baudet likes to use controversy to normalize his ideology. We can illustrate this strategy by zooming in on his victory speech after the 2019 election and his review of Houellebecq's book Sérotonine for the American Affairs Journal. The two interventions were in essence about what he calls the decline of the boreal (or 'Northern') civilization and what Baudet sees as the devastating impact of what he calls the party cartel in particular and the individualization and atomization of society since the 18th century Enlightenment in general. This discourse is emblematic for Baudet's ideological position. He regularly echoes anti-Enlightenment, conservative revolutionary and new right thinkers, such as Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye. All the classic tropes from these thinkers are present in his discourse: the decline of the nation, the demographic question, the loss of identity and the traditional family and gender roles, and the devastating impact of globalization, liberalism and the French revolution. And, as with any new right radical right leader, he also loudly stresses the need for a national and civilizational rebirth. All media controversies about his radical right ideology are labelled by Baudet as the work of opponents trying to frame him and the party in a negative way.
The Trump 2020 election campaign has adopted the language of war. Not only is Trump accusing Biden and the Democrats of destroying America, but the campaign is also organizing itself as an army controlled by Trump's campaign team that goes by the name of Trump War Room on Twitter.
Digital media play an important role in the contemporary rise in visibility of New Right and far-right activist groups online, offline, and in the mainstream media. This visibility has boosted their online and offline mobilization power. Through a live digital ethnographic analysis of the rise of Schild & Vrienden, a recent Flemish far-right activist movement, I will argue that we should understand their online and offline activism as part of a “metapolitical battle” exploiting the affordances of digital media in a hybrid media system. Schild & Vrienden, just like most contemporary New Right movements, draws ideological and strategic inspiration from “ La Nouvelle Droite,” the French far-right school of thought. Following their lead, these activists focus first and foremost on the circulation and the normalization of ideas: the discursive or metapolitical battle for hegemony. Digital media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube prove to be ideal platforms for that metapolitical battle enabling them to gain considerable discursive power in a hybrid media system. This article argues that the distribution of New Right content on these platforms presupposes digital literacy and algorithmic activism. “Algorithmic activists” are defined as activists who use (theoretical or practical) knowledge about the relative weight certain signals have within the proceduralized choices the algorithms of the media platforms make as proxies of human judgment, to reach their (meta)political goals. In this sense, “algorithmic activism” contributes to spreading their message by interacting with the post to trigger the algorithms of the medium, so that they boost the popularity rankings.
In this paper I will focus on the construction of the populist voice in an attention-based hybrid media system (Chadwick, 2017; Venturini, 2019) and argue that the contemporary 21st century populist uses the affordances of digital technology not only to attract the attention of common people and the legacy media, but to actually mobilize people to co-construct the idea that the party is truly representing ‘the people’. More concretely, I will focus on how the extreme-right party Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), uses digital technology (Facebook and the political engagement platform NationBuilder) to position themselves as the true representatives of the Flemish people against an elite that destroys its society, culture and identity. I will argue that by putting themselves in the center of attention and to gamifying their audience, they manage not only to steer information flows in the hybrid media system, but also to construct themselves as the ‘voice of the people’.
Since mid-October, Charlie Kirk's Culture War college tour has been increasingly haunted by the Groyper and nicker Groyper Q&A trolls. These offline trolls use the Q&A-sessions that are part of the Culture War show format to frame Charlie Kirk as a fake, 'anti-white' conservative. A new chapter in the alt-right's cultural war re-emerges in full force. Charlie Kirk's Culture War Tour The 24-year-young Charlie Kirk presents himself as the new cool conservative kid on the block and is hyped as the new conservative wonder-boy. Kirk is also a regular writer for Breitbart and his discourse and the tactic of university tours remind us of the role Milo took up in the 2016 election.
The massive media attention sparked by GoDaddy's decision to pull support for the radical right social network site GAB after the murderous riot in a synagogue in Pittsburg should urge internet companies to rethink their policies towards hate speech. The damage control policy of blocking activists and platforms after murderous riots raises the impact of these extremists, their platforms and their metapolitical battle. GAB, metapolitics and the digital mainstream GAB is not the first New Right platform that has been denied the services of GoDaddy or other prominent internet companies like PayPal, Google apps or Apple. It will probably not be the last either. In the last decade, New Right activists and their platforms have become deeply embedded in the digital mainstream. They use digital mainstream platforms to mobilize online and offline, to communicate privately and generate money. But most importantly, the New Right uses the digital mainstream as a metapolitical infrastructure. It was no coincidence that GAB positioned itself under the #speakfreely flag, nor was it a commitment to democracy or free speech. The New Right metapolitical battle is focused on repackaging old skool radical ideas like racism, blood and soil nationalism and anti-feminism and injecting them into the mainstream in order to normalize them. In essence, they are fighting a cultural battle to change politics in the long run. Mainstream digital media are crucial in this metapolitical strategy. They are needed to reach out to the so-called normies. It was thus no surprise that GAB was not an instant success. The beta version of GAB was released in August 2016. One year later, they only had 250.000 profiles, most of them New Right activists. The business model was very clear from the start. GAB explicitly positioned itself as an alternative for the 'so-despised' Twitter and Facebook A R T I C L E I c o M a l y 0 2 / 1 1 / 2 0 1 8 GAB, fake news and metapolitics 9 minutes to read
Digitalization gave birth to a new form of populism: algorithmic populism. If we want to understand contemporary populism, we should understand it in its social, political, economic and technological context. Algorithmic populism cannot be understood without taking the uptake and algorithmic activism in particular into account. Populism and computational agency In the digital age, political discourses are only to a small extent produced by politicians. Millions of citizens, activists, bots and even algorithms (re)produce political discourses (Maly, 2018). That is why it does not suffice to look at the input and why attention for the uptake is at least as important. The affordances of digital media and Web 2.0 push us towards understanding populism as a digitally mediated communicative relation between different human and non-human algorithmic actors. Digital media have fundamentally altered the fields of media and politics, and studying politics and populism in particular inevitably means that we should include these media in our analysis. Social media like Facebook and Twitter allow politicians to control their own voice and message, but they only control it within the given formats of the social medium they use. These media come with specific affordances and as such they not only shape the discourse; they contribute to the construction or destruction and distribution of the populist voice. The number of followers, likes and retweets are political facts. Digital media are not just intermediaries anymore-the message is not just distributed by digital media but also shaped and altered. Digital media and social media in particular are non-linear. They (re)shape and reorganize the communicative structure of the 'input'-discourse. They have agency and are best understood as mediators (Tufekci, 2015).
Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the white nationalist terrorist attack in New Zealand, saw himself as a crusader for the white race, a white terrorist stepping in the footsteps of Breivik. This battle has an offline and an online dimension and it is crucial that we take this online/offline nexus on board when analyzing contemporary white terrorism.
In this paper, I want to introduce a(n digital) ethnographic approach to populism that understands populism as a (digitally) mediatized chronotopic communicative and discursive relation. Populism, I argue, is not only constructed in a (mediatized) communicative relation between journalists, politicians and academics, but also in the relation to citizens, activists and computational agency. Attention to all these actors, and the media they use, is of crucial importance if we want to understand populism. Digital media are not just new media that populists use, their algorithms and affordances reshape their populism. In times of digitalization, we cannot understand populism by only looking at ‘the input’, the frame that actors prepare for uptake, it is about the uptake as well. More concretely, I will argue that digital media have given birth to a new form of populism: algorithmic populism. Understanding and focusing on populism as a ‘communicative relation’ between all these human and non-human actors allows use to analyze ‘populism’ more precisely.
This PhD thesis analyses the political ideology and communication of the New-Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie; N-VA). N-VA is a relatively new political party in Belgian politics. Their main political demand, in the long run, is the establishment of an independent Flemish state. Since 2007 this political party witnessed a spectacular rise: in 2010 they became the biggest Flemish party. Their chairman, Bart De Wever, is since then a central figure in the Flemish and Belgian political landscape. In this book two main questions are answered. First we investigate if the political project of N-VA is to be situated within what Zeev Sternhell in his 2010 book labeled as The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. To answer this question we look at how N-VA understands democracy and the central val- ues of the Enlightenment, namely freedom and equality, and, more impor- tantly we investigate if the party is engaged in realizing these Enlightenment values. Our second question focuses on how the political communication of N-VA is received and reproduced within mainstream media and within social media like Facebook These two questions arise from the first opinion article that De Wever pub- lished as a politician in a major mainstream Flemish newspaper, De Standaard. In that article De Wever praises Edmund Burke as his source of ideological inspiration. This confession is certainly not a minor one, since according to Sternhell, Burke is to be seen as one of the founders of the anti-Enlighten- ment tradition. Besides praising Burke, De Wever in his article also sheds light on his vision of politics as an ideological battle to hegemonize the political rhetoric of his party. In order to dominate politically, says De Wever, you have to avoid concepts that place you in a defensive position. He elucidates this position with a one-liner: You catch flies with honey, not with vinegar. De Wever’s contribution to De Standaard is clearly connected to the two questions that are dealt with in this book. First, by outing himself as a follower of Burke De Wever suggest that he is also outing himself as an anti-Enlight- enment thinker. Second, De Wever is clearly very conscious of the fact that words matter in his political conquest. To answer the two main questions we have first conducted a content analysis of the discourse and the political program of this Flemish nationalist party. In doing so we use the methodological framework of linguistic pragmatics. This functional perspective on language provides us with the tools for tracing the construction of meaning in discourse. This perspective on language is very suitable to reconstruct the ideology of N-VA, exactly because ideological pro- cesses are basically processes of meaning construction. This research is based on an ethnographical method in a Hymsean sense: a descriptive theory that does justice to the complexity of the world and that works from empirical facts towards theory. So ethnography in this enquiry is not just description, but is also interpretation. Among other things, this means that the data are ethnographical data, they are linguistic utterances in a certain social, historical and political context and this context is very important in the construction of meaning. To reconstruct the ideology of N-VA we analyze the political com- munication of the party (including opinion articles, books, press releases, the files on their website) in its context. To analyze the circulation and reproduc- tion of the N-VA discourse we focus on the rhetoric of the party in main- stream and social media. The ideology of N-VA In the first part of our analysis we focus on the main concepts of the nation- alistic project of N-VA, i.e. ‘national identity’ and ‘nation’. We also analyze the orientation of the party in the world, the role of history and social science theorists as Craig Calhoun in its project. In the second part of the analysis we historicize the political discourse of N-VA. We do so by placing the discourse within the two centuries lasting battle between the Enlightenment and the anti- Enlightenment and within the Belgian history in the long, mid and short term. The analysis of the main nationalistic concepts of the N-VA discourse is revealing. N-VA presents itself as a moderate party. This new Flemish and nationalis- tic party constantly stresses its difference with the extreme right. The party does this by framing its political and nationalistic project as a humanitarian and democratic nationalism, a nationalism adapted to the needs of the 21st century: free from all the mistakes and violence of the nationalisms of the 20th century. N-VA stands for a healthy nationalism that wants more democracy and that is openly oriented towards the world. N-VA presents itself as a child of the Enlightenment that full of conviction fights for a world with more democracy, more freedom and more equality. 6 | | 3 After a thorough analysis we conclude that this rhetoric is what it is: only rhetoric aimed at concealing the radical nature of the ideology of N-VA and its political project. N-VA’s civil nationalism can in fact only be understood as a strategic instrument to distance the party from the overtly racist and extreme right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). In emphasizing the difference, N-VA stresses its civil nationalism. The problem with this rhetorical strategy is that this civil nationalism is being grafted on a dominant organic nationalism. This organic nation is the real and authentic Flemish nation that needs to be cher- ished and reproduced. This is the dominant nation that cannot and must not be changed by the influence of people from other cultures. Newcomers can become a member of the “club” if they want to. But their will has to be spontaneous and voluntary. The “will to become a real Fleming” translates itself in the discourse of N-VA as a spontaneous assimilation process initiated by the newcomer and supported by the state that provides courses to become a good Flemish citizen. Newcomers should learn the Dutch language and subscribe to the moral order of the authentic, organic Flemish nation. They should show their will to become a real Fleming by living their life follow- ing the norms and values of the Flemish nation. In short, it becomes clear that the civil ‘nationalism’ of the party is as essentialist as its organic nationalism. By claiming that N-VA as a party is characterized by an open attitude towards the world, N-VA once again stresses the difference with the extreme right. But that open attitude is conditional and can only be maintained if there is a strong national Flemish identity. One of the elements that N-VA uses to prove its open attitude is the party’s European engagement. Though this European com- mitment is made explicit, it does not mean that it is in contradiction with the nationalistic program of the party. On the contrary, the commitment of N-VA is in the first place inspired by its Flemish nationalism. Its commitment is a com- mitment with a Herderian Europe: a Europe of peoples, of nations. Like all the anti-Enlightenment thinkers N-VA is explicitly against cosmopolitan thinking and against universal politics and morals. The party is fighting all universal and utopian thinking with all possible means. The commitment of N-VA to the universal human rights is only made explicit in the context of the integration of migrants. In that context ‘we’, i.e., ‘the Flemings’ are seen as the embodiment of these values and the ‘others’ are seen as people who still have to go through an Enlightenment. In this context human rights are being perverted to instru- ments of exclusion, instead of being used as principles of inclusion. Even more, in another context N-VA sees the exclusive focus on rights as the basis of a derailed society. In the discourse of N-VA the primacy of the nation is rule. As a consequence of this rule, it is clear that the universal right of the individual is of secondary importance. Even though N-VA underlines that its nationalism is aimed at the improvement and deepening of the democracy, we see that the party understands this as something very different from what is normally understood as a democracy. For the Enlightenment thinkers democracy was a grand narrative based on core values as freedom and equality. Democracy without democratically informed people, without good media, without good education, without equality and freedom is no democracy from the perspective of the Enlightenment. Democracy in the discourse of N-VA gets a totally new meaning: it equals Flemish autonomy and eventually independence with nationalism. N-VA’s battle for democracy is first of all a battle for an independent Flemish nation. Even more, for N-VA a democracy is only a democracy if it is based on a solid, collective and homogeneous national identity. Democracy becomes an ethnocracy in the discourse of N-VA. But that is not all: N-VA understands democracy also as a temporary dictatorship of the majority. Once N-VA wins the majority of the votes, it understands this as a license to rule as the party pleases. From within that viewpoint the party refuses to listen to strikers, referendum and every other political and societal action from civil society that gets in the way of its political project. Since they don’t have the electoral majority, according to N-VA their voice is not democratically legitimate. This denial to take into account the democratic resistance against some policies of the party is communicated as a denial in the name of democracy: “only the voices of the people in the last election” counts and until the next elections the people should be quiet. N-VA pleads in the classical rhetoric of the anti-Enlightenment tradition to safeguard the traditional and healthy society. Therefore the individual liberties should be corrected and adjusted to fit ‘reality’. If not, society will fall apart and become a hedonistic and decadent society. Every intervention in society to establish more freedom or more equality, is being seen as an attack on the traditional order of society. The values of the Enlightenment are seen as an undermining of the harmonious and organic society and can by consequence only result in disaster. The liberal freedoms of the Enlightenment should there- fore be corrected by establishing anti-liberal values that are seemingly part of our tradition. Rights should be completed with duties, freedom with responsi- bility - except for entrepreneurs: they should enjoy the biggest freedom pos- sible. The main point in the discourse of N-VA is the importance of the nation with its traditional moral order - that nation has the primacy over the will of the individual and his or her rights. The attack on democracy that De Wever and N-VA are waging is not only a nationalistic attack with democracy as its target. It is at the same time a com- prehensive attack on democracy, the democratic human being and the values of the Enlightenment. From within the anti-Enlightenment tradition N-VA is leading an attack on freedom, equality and solidarity without which there can be no healthy democracy in the sense that the Enlightenment thinkers under- stood it. That is not all, even the democratic human being and necessary right of resistance and the protection of minorities are openly and without much resistance taken as a target by N-VA. The ideology of N-VA is an anti-Enlight- enment ideology that is being wrapped in a moderate rhetoric that redefines the nationalistic project as a battle for more democracy. Yet, not the classical meaning of democracy is deployed here, but the primacy of the nation-as- democracy is the main goal of the party. The circulation & reproduction of the N-VA discourse The investigation is primarily a discursive study that analyses the content and focusses on the historical roots of N-VA’s political ideology. Secondly, we investigated how the discourse of N-VA circulates and is being reproduced within the mass media and Web 2.0. The main research topic here focuses on the influence of (new) media on the circulation and reproduction of N-VA’s political messages. This radical discourse of N-VA circulates massively in the mass media and within Web 2.0. N-VA’s political communication is extremely professional. The party wraps its controversial anti-Enlightenment discourse in a moderate rhetoric: N-VA’s ideological and radical aims are being sold as expressions of realism and pragmatism. This is a result of the master narrative in which the party and its chairman Bart De Wever are being presented as the personalization of the moral community of Flanders. De Wever is the man who consequentially speaks up for the interests of all the Flemings. The image of De Wever is care- fully constructed as a person who is honest, intellectual, funny and reliable. He goes straightforward, consistent and brave against the dominant flow. He fights against the leftist elite, the Walloons and the Muslims who all undermine the foundations, the values and moral standards of the Flemish nation in fast pace. N-VA and De Wever in particular do not only communicate a pure political message, but they communicate above all an identity. And that identity is clear: unlike the morally hypocritical leftist movement, N-VA is for consistency, values, standards and justice. N-VA is courageous and consistent. Conclusion By the massive circulation of the N-VA discourse on the internet and in the mainstream media, the party managed among other things, to change the perception on Belgium. Belgium today is seen by more and more people as a country with two democracies, a country that is on its way to a split. Moreover, this analysis is not understood as a radical position, a position of an extreme right-wing party or as a radical Flemish nationalistic viewpoint but is being seen as a factual description. Also the idea that solidarity in Belgium is nothing more than unauthorized money transfers is no longer seen as a radical position that formerly was just sent out by the extreme right Vlaams Blok. More even, N-VA has managed changing the meaning of democracy and replacing it with the definition of an ethnocracy. Even traditionally renowned leftwing journalists do not see any problems in the condition that “a democ- racy” and “solidarity” in the N-VA-discourse is only legitimate if they are anchored in one shared national identity. The primacy of the nation over the rights of the individual is seen as something normal, an act of realism. In short, De Wever has in a few years managed to establish anti-Enlightenment posi- tions as legitimate and moderate expressions and the N-VA perspective on Belgian society and Flanders in particular has now become hegemonic. The discourse of N-VA and the communication of the party’s top politicians like Bart De Wever and Siegfried Bracke circulate massively in the media landscape. The N-VA rhetoric is dominant in the mainstream media as well as in the virtual world. Journalists do not only report about the political commu- nication of N-VA, a lot of them simply reproduce this discourse as the truth, as news. We analyzed six cases of political media communication of N-VA in the mainstream media and concluded that the communication of N-VA is very professionally constructed for circulation in the mass media. N-VA’s commu- nication is carefully prepared for uptake. Every media performance is carefully prepared with juicy quotes, metaphors and one-liners that are ready to be circulated in the mass media. The journalists are not alone in reproducing and circulating the N-VA rhetoric. Day in and day out, hundreds of people reproduce such messages in com- menting on the news on websites like De Standaard Online 2.0, deredactie. be, or the site of Gazet van Antwerpen. But also on Facebook and Twitter we encounter hundreds of copy cats. In addition, there are a whole series of nationalistic rightwing micro-media of political parties, civil society organiza- tions, think tanks, interest groups and individual bloggers who let the Flemish nationalist discourse circulate on the internet. Striking result of this analysis is the substantive consensus in Web 2.0 on the argumentation of N-VA. Virtually without distinction the dominant discourse on these media is almost a literal copy-paste of the words of De Wever and Bracke. Albeit that many reserves disappear and the matters are put on sharp.
VA, banal nationalism and the battle for the Flemish nation by Ico Maly © firstname.lastname@example.org © June 2013