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Populism in the era of Twitter: How social media contextualized new insights into an old phenomenon

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With the advent of social media, political communication scholars have systematically revised theories and empirical corollaries revolving media use and democracy at large. Interestingly, in about the same period of time, a reinvigorated political populism trend has taken place across different latitudes in the world. This widespread populist movement has expanded regardless of whether these political systems were established democracies, emerging democracies, or societies immersed in political contexts at peril. This essay serves as the introductory piece to a special issue on populism. First, it highlights the ways in which “populism,” being an old phenomenon, has further transpired into the political realm in the era of social media. Second, the essay seeks to better contextualize what populism is and how it has developed within today’s hybrid media society. Finally, this introduction also lays out the ground to six central theoretical and data-driven papers that encapsulate many of the important issues revolving the phenomenon of populism today.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819893978
new media & society
2020, Vol. 22(4) 585 –594
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DOI: 10.1177/1461444819893978
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Populism in the era of
Twitter: How social media
contextualized new insights
into an old phenomenon
Homero Gil de Zúñiga
University of Salamanca, Spain; Pennsylvania State University, USA
Karolina Koc Michalska
Audencia Business School, France
Andrea Römmele
Hertie School of Governance, Germany
Abstract
With the advent of social media, political communication scholars have systematically
revised theories and empirical corollaries revolving media use and democracy at large.
Interestingly, in about the same period of time, a reinvigorated political populism
trend has taken place across different latitudes in the world. This widespread populist
movement has expanded regardless of whether these political systems were established
democracies, emerging democracies, or societies immersed in political contexts at
peril. This essay serves as the introductory piece to a special issue on populism. First,
it highlights the ways in which “populism,” being an old phenomenon, has further
transpired into the political realm in the era of social media. Second, the essay seeks to
better contextualize what populism is and how it has developed within today’s hybrid
media society. Finally, this introduction also lays out the ground to six central theoretical
and data-driven papers that encapsulate many of the important issues revolving the
phenomenon of populism today.
Corresponding author:
Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Democracy Research Unit, Political Science, University of Salamanca, Campus
Unamuno s/n, Salamanca 37007, Spain.
Email: hgz@usal.es
893978NMS0010.1177/1461444819893978new media & societyGil de Zúñiga et al.
research-article2020
Introduction to the special issue
586 new media & society 22(4)
Keywords
democracy, Facebook, populism, social media, Twitter
In this essay, we introduce a set of theoretical and empirical studies delving on populism.
The special volume focuses on how populists actually connect with citizens, what com-
munication strategies they use, and how these differ from communication modes and
styles we know from established candidates/parties. Do populists have their own way of
communicating? How do they shape political discussions in the online and offline world?
And what are the broader implications for future political campaigns, the state of a buoy-
ant public sphere, and for a healthier democracy at large?
Over the past decades, the world has witnessed a growing wave of populism that has
made significant electoral gains across the globe. This populist surge encompasses a
broad ideological spectrum at both sides of the political aisle in the United States
(i.e. progressive and conservative), in Europe and Latin America (right and left), and
elsewhere. Many recent results at national general elections attested this current ten-
dency. For instance, the election of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016, the entry
of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) into the German parliament in 2017, the election
of Sebastian Kurz in 2017 as Austria’s Chancellor, the election of Bolsonaro as Brazil’s
president with more than 50% of the popular vote in 2018, or the many existing populist
forces gaining momentum in referendums and elections across Europe and Latin
American suggest that populism is on the rise. This widespread of populism has also
sparked scholarly attention which has exponentially increased in recent years (De Vreese,
Esser, Aalberg, and Reinemann Stanyer, 2018; Engesser et al., 2017; Kaltwasser, 2015;
Norris and Inglehart, 2019; Wettstein et al., 2019).
What is populism?
Populism as a concept is widely used but also extensively contested (Gidron and
Bonikowski, 2013). In the absence of a solid, holistic, and systematic theory and defini-
tion of populism, the term has loosely been used as a synonym for anti-establishment
narrative (Müller, 2016). Thus, populism may be understood as a set of generally dema-
gogic ideas and as a political communicational strategy. Political populism prospers as
an anti-establishment pursuit led by a charismatic leader, praising the role of “the
people” and aiming to dichotomize the political arena and society into “us, the people,”
versus “them, the elites.” This clear in-group versus out-group (Falk et al., 2012) strategy
may be employed by sharply distinct political parties and their leaders, but it may also be
practiced by different actors (i.e. political institutions, the media, etc.). While there are
several examples of populist leaders,1 there is no overall blueprint for a typical populist
leader.2 “Populist” as a label has rarely been self-attributed or claimed by individuals or
organizations. A notable exception, however, is Le Penn in France who self-proclaimed
to be a populist leader (Stanley, 2008). Overall, the term populism usually originates
from a negative ascription by political opponents or the media (Wettstein et al., 2018).
Gil de Zúñiga et al. 587
Background
The literature on populism broadly suggests three successive waves of this phenomenon:
agrarian populism, Latin American populism, and the new-right populism (Jagers and
Walgrave, 2007). Its first manifestations emerged in Russia and the United States during
the second half of the 19th century. The second wave of populism began in the 1930s in
Latin America, when authoritarian regimes centered on a charismatic leader were estab-
lished in Argentina and Brazil, claiming to be a direct representation of the people, acting
in their best interest and against the establishment (Hennessy, 1969). The third wave is
embodied by the recent rise of populism movements from the 1970s onwards. Established
mainstream parties, especially across Europe and the United States were increasingly
perceived as self-serving and ignorant toward the demands and needs of “the people”
(Gidron and Bonikowski, 2013; Kazin, 1998; Taggart, 2000).
Although this recent wave has typically been associated with radical right-wing
movements, populism may be now also distributed within the ideological spectrum. Be
it ideologically connected to the right or the left, populism is rather linked to the level of
radicalism of the party or candidate (Rooduijn and Akkerman, 2017). On one hand, right-
wing populism commonly identifies with topics such as immigration, taxes, crime, and
nationalism (Taggart, 2000). On the contrary, radical left movements initially focused on
pre-USSR collapse, criticizing capitalism and neoliberalism, and progressively transi-
tioned to include a broader scope of social topics (March and Mudde, 2005). Previous
work argues that populism is a direct response to liberal democracies neglecting the
founding idea of popular sovereignty, offering the analogy of a “drunken guest at a din-
ner party” blurting out the inconvenient truths that highlight the distance between regular
citizens and the politics, and institutions that govern them (Huber and Schimpf, 2016:
103). In any case, populism and populists’ parties and elected figures have become a
central part of contemporary politics (Moffitt and Tormey, 2014).
Populism in the era of Twitter
Some scholars warned about how online communication ecosystems could open the
door not only to polarizing or uncivil messages (Coe et al., 2014; Lawrence et al., 2010;
Rains et al., 2017; Wu, 2013) but also to populist messages (Bobba and Legnante, 2017;
Schroeder, 2018). In the days of a hybrid media system with pervasive social media
interactions intertwined with professional journalism (Bruns, 2018; Chadwick, 2017),
populism has thrived (Wells et al., 2016). It is important to stress that populism as a thin
ideology (Ernst et al., 2017), core strategy to influence the public (Mazzoleni, 2014),
and as an extreme left-/right-wing leadership-dependent phenomenon (Mudde and
Kaltwasser, 2014; Van der Brug and Mughan, 2007) has remained constant and unal-
tered. However, social media has inflicted and sustained a pivotal playing role in the way
populists’ campaigns are carried out and the ways political actors communicate and
directly engage with the electorate. First, social media provides “low cost” communica-
tion opportunities (Bennett, 2012) and potential for broad and rapid dissemination of
messages (Ratkiewicz et al., 2011). Ernst et al. (2017) talk about the virality effect.
Accordingly, political leaders may not be able to solely achieve their goal by having
588 new media & society 22(4)
social media access in one or many platforms, but rather by increasing their reliance on
strong interconnected networks of citizens that by commenting, promoting, and discuss-
ing their original messages, directly participate in the profound dissemination of these
populist ideas. Prior research has also identified that for a message to become viral, it has
to incorporate certain elements such as emotional attachment, novel and surprising infor-
mation, fuel passive broadcasting, and seek message personalization (Aral and Walker,
2011; Hong et al., 2011). All features are deeply exploited by populists’ politicians. The
more direct, unmediated, outrageous, polarizing, shocking, and emotional the message
is, the more chances of becoming viral and populistically effective. It is a victory for
populists’ politicians at the expense of debilitating a civil, constructive, and rational pub-
lic sphere. Informative public affair facts and the pursuit of a common goal in society
may thus become irrelevant.
When truth becomes irrelevant
In recent years, we have witnessed political discourses and debates in which facts have
lost their meaning as benchmarks for evaluations and decisions, and became a flexible
tool to reinforce certain worldviews (Maurer and Reinemann, 2006; Ryan and Gamson,
2006). As an exemplary token, let us select a photo used in flyers about domestic security
distributed by the far-right party AfD in Germany. The original picture was taken in
Athens during a riot and shows a protestor hitting a police officer with a stick. The edited
picture showed the protester with a logo-badge from the German Antifa, an anti-fascist
network. It was an obvious fake. When asked for a clarification, an AfD spokesman
claimed that a fake photo would not change the fact that the security situation in Germany
was getting worse and that, captured in the photo or not, it is obvious who is responsible
for the rise of violence in the country. Evidence and facts are now seemingly irrelevant
and have turned out to be something adjustable to a political cause. The former Princeton
University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt (2009) calls this bullshit. A lie can be
answered with evidence, which forces the liar to revise or withdraw former statements.
Bullshit cuts out unwelcome facts: evidence that supports the message is true, evidence
that hinders it is false (Frankfurt, 2009). The principle of truth loses its relevance, and
this is paramount for democracies. At the heart of democracy is the debate, the discourse
about political alternatives based on facts, despite ideological differences. When citizens
and politicians do not engage in a fact-driven discourse any more, democracy is at peril.
Volume research highlights
The research included in this current Special Issue proposes a set of theoretical and data-
driven papers that encapsulate many of the important issues revolving the phenomenon
of “populism” today. It starts with a theoretical manuscript by Gibson and Roemmele
(2019) developing the concept of the fourth era of political campaigning emerging
within the Western democracies. Following this theoretical piece, this volume includes
four empirically based studies depicting some of the key elements showcased in the
fourth campaigning era. Jacob et al. (2020) look at the role of social media platforms,
specifically Facebook and Twitter, in shaping populist communication strategies. Bucy
Gil de Zúñiga et al. 589
et al. (2020) focus on the populist styles of communication employed by candidates and
the responses they induce on social media. Wells et al. (2020) seek to understand the
relationship between populists and traditional media. Finally, Boulianne et al. (2020)
investigate the propensity of voters to turn toward populist candidates due to their usage
of offline and online media, social media, and the possible echo chamber effects. The
Special Issue concludes as it started, with a theoretical essay by Bimber and Gil de
Zúñiga (2020) that centers on the challenges brought upon by the development of social
media and some populist communication strategies to the existence of the public sphere
within democratic regimes.
Gibson and Roemmele (2020) offer a stimulating proposition that illustrates tangible
deep transformations of previous, post-modern, types of campaigning as they shifted into
a new stage. This new campaign era includes indirect systematic ways of communication
with the constituencies, and it is chiefly based on a two-step model. It intensively
employs the in-house technological infrastructure as political parties amass and curate
large amounts of data, openly available in social media.
Accordingly, modern political campaigning allows the proliferation of extensive data-
bases for psychometrical profiling of the voters and micro-targeting, but also leaves an
open space for cyber-attacks from the opposition, and beyond. Depending on how those
elements are curated and handled by parties or candidates, campaigns may turn toward
two distinct directions: “scientific” or “subversive.” Based on the same principles—data-
driven, using virtual networks and high level of personalization—these two campaign
types differ in content, procedures, and goals. The former tends to align much more with
a traditional format of political campaigning. “Subversive” campaigning, on the other
hand, seeks to recognize the recent success of populist movements in Western democra-
cies. Subversive mode focuses on the role of strong leader, often outsider to mainstream
politics, whose actions are funneled by data and “the views of the people.” Yet, its per-
sonality and behavior may become erratic, overpowering and seemingly spontaneous.
Such a guru-like leadership requires specific staff members, where loyalty may be more
relevant than field expertise, and strong ideological orientations are well received over a
more nuanced and balanced view of traditional political advisors. From the communica-
tion perspective, subversive campaigning engages ad hoc messages, often intended at
misinformation and polarization of the voters, turning them emotionally against the
opposition or intentionally demobilizing them. Social media, as network-based and
direct communication tools, is tuned in as a machine against the establishment and tradi-
tional media reporting.
Jacobs et al.’s (2020) study explores the different communication strategies adopted
and employed by populist and non-populist Members of Parliament in Austria, The
Netherlands, and Sweden. They argue these strategies are also platform dependent as
they theorize the existence of two distinct practices in social media. On Twitter,
@name&shame messages are to pressure journalists to increase media coverage. On
Facebook, posts by politicians are to activate anger among followers by engaging a
sense of injustice and cultural backlash. Counterintuitively, the study finds that MPs
representing populist parties are in general less likely to have a social media account.
Yet, their employment of @name&shame strategy is three times higher than non- populist
politicians. Similarly, their postings on Facebook are substantially more geared at
590 new media & society 22(4)
eliciting anger-based reactions. Thus, through emotions, they try to attract more attention
to their messages and further engage the electorate.
Bucy et al. (2020) offer a case study analysis of the first 2016 presidential debate
between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump seeking to understand how the specific styles
of populist discourse generate real-time reactions on Twitter. These scholars focus on the
transgressive communication style represented by Trump, violating the normative bound-
aries, openly displaying frustration and anger. This populist style is operationalized by
emotionalization, simplification, and negativity estimated within verbal, tonal, and non-
verbal communication. The paper shares with New Media & Society readers an original
extensive coding schema. The results are intuitive; however, the intensity of the effects
may come as a surprise. Trump employed anger or threat almost along his entire dis-
course, especially nonverbal facial expressions. The current president of the United States
added defiance visual cues and gestures in about more than half of his speaking time. He
engaged more vigorously into personal attacks, blaming others of hostile interruptions.
His populist style discourse stimulated those viewers who second screened the debate via
Twitter (to learn more about second screening or dual screening; see, for instance, Gil de
Zúñiga and Liu, 2017; Gil de Zúñiga, García-Perdomo, and McGregor, 2015; Vaccari
et al., 2015). The tweet flow was faster and more persistent in time for Trump’s interven-
tions than for those of Clinton, and all visual populist indicators facilitated the online
responses more rapidly than any other populist features (i.e. tonal or verbal).
Wells et al.’s (2020) study, similar to Jacobs et al.’s (2020), seeks to depict paramount
communication strategy features of the main candidates in US 2016 primary elections.
The authors pay special attention to two of the most populist candidates, Trump and
Sanders, and how they attract attention from diverse media outlets. The research, theo-
retically grounded in attention economy framework, delves into how disaggregated
media outlets in America covered candidates, and how those candidates employed
diverse techniques (i.e. events and social media) to attract media interest. Findings are
mixed, although tend to be more consistent for Republican candidates. For instance,
Trump benefits from retweets, special events like debates, and the relative strong stand-
ing garnished in public opinion polls to bust biased interest of mainstream professional
media. Interestingly, Sanders kept pace with Trump in the number of retweets, yet he did
not receive similar media coverage. These results do not entirely lend support to consist-
ent effects of populists’ messages and strategies, and leave room for future research to
further understand the unbalanced interest and attentiveness of the contemporary media
ecology toward left- and right-wing populism. Finally, and perhaps contrary to popular
belief, the study reveals a planned and strategic usage of Twitter by Trump as he tweeted
relatively more intensively when media attention to his rhetoric declined.
Boulianne et al.’s (2019) research challenges a commonly argued claim that social
media helps to bypass traditional media (for a discussion of changing gatekeeping prac-
tices, see Coddington and Holton, 2014), eliciting efficient mobilization of right-wing
populist parties’ voters. Specially, they concentrate on the concept of echo chambers
and the extent to which closing within similar views offline and online brings support
for populism. The article is based on an original representative survey data set collected
in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These authors found little evi-
dence for the impact of social media use, or any other media, on the propensity to vote
Gil de Zúñiga et al. 591
right-wing populists. Similarly, they do not confirm the hypothesis about the creation of
online echo chambers, measured through political discussion networks that receive
homogeneous information. On the contrary, they found a consistent offline homogene-
ous discussion network pattern (i.e. those similar in race, ethnicity, and social class)
revolving the right-wing populist vote, particularly in France and the United Kingdom.
Finally, the Special Issue concludes by showcasing some of the most pressing issues
in today’s democracy upstretched by all recent technological changes, contributing to the
unedited public sphere. In this theoretical account, Bimber and Gil de Zúñiga (2019)
offer new perspectives and directions revolving the relation between political actors and
their employment of social media affordances. They draw on a “false beliefs paradigm,”
and lay out three epistemic features on how current digital technology and social media
ecosystems are concentrating on (1) obscuring the provenance of information, (2) facili-
tating deception about authorship, and (3) securing the manipulation of social signals.
Systematically, the essay explains how these three epistemic problems tend to guarantee
people’s disability to discern what is true and what is not in the flow of political com-
munication through mass media channels, as well as through social media tools. The
article highlights the importance of future research in clarifying how epistemic chal-
lenges brought by social media may affect the exercising of democracy and the transfor-
mation of public spheres within the “post-truth politics” era. In doing so, the authors
attempt to map out some of these potential research lines and suggest some remedies
geared toward fostering healthier democracies.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/
or publication of this article: The authors would like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for
their financial support.
ORCID iDs
Homero Gil de Zúñiga https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4187-3604
Andrea Römmele https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1862-2513
Notes
1. As mentioned earlier, Vargas, Peron, Ibarra, and Estenssoro, in the Latin American context,
have strongly influenced the image of the charismatic, rhetorically well-versed “demagogue”
that often is associated with the image of a for populist leaders.
2. Despite the absence of an overall definition, scholars like Mudde and Kaltwasser (2017)
identify different manifestations of this phenomenon such as the “charismatic strongman,”
the “vox populi,” or the voice of the pure people.
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Author biographies
Homero Gil de Zúñiga (PhD in Politics at Universidad Europea de Madrid and PhD in Mass
Communication at University of Wisconsin – Madison) is distinguished research professor at
University of Salamanca where he directs the Democracy Research Unit (DRU), Media Effects
professor at Pennsylvania State University, and research fellow at Universidad Diego Portales,
Chile. His research addresses the influence of new technologies and digital media over people’s
daily lives, as well as the effect of such use on the overall democratic process.
Karolina Koc Michalska (PhD, Silesia University) is professor at Audencia Business School and
associated researcher at CEVIPOF Sciences-Po Paris, France. Her research focuses on the strate-
gies of political actors in the online environment and citizens’ political engagement. She employs
a comparative approach focusing on US and European countries.
Andrea Römmele is dean for Executive Education and professor for Political Communication at
the Hertie School in Berlin, Germany. Her research interests lie in the field of comparative parties,
party communication and social media. She has been a Fulbright distinguished chair at the
University of California in Santa Barbara, US and is a frequent commentator in German politics in
the media and news.
... En este sentido, existen coincidencias con la investigación de Bail et al. (2018) y Goyanes et al. (2021) en cuanto a que las redes sociales virtuales aumentan la polarización política y dividen más a los ciudadanos mexicanos. También, muchos de ellos advirtieron que los medios sociales han potencializado el mensaje de líderes políticos populistas, por lo que también se observan coincidencias con lo que reconocían otras investigaciones de otros contextos como es el caso de Gil de Zuñiga et al. (2020a;2020b). En torno a los valores cívicos, las respuestas de los profesores coinciden con el estudio de Vizcaíno-Laorga et al. (2019), en el que se destacaba que el compromiso de los jóvenes es clave en el uso que le den a los medios sociales. ...
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El presente trabajo, realizado a partir de treinta y cinco entrevistas estructuradas a profesores universitarios mexicanos, reflexiona sobre la forma en la que las redes sociales han cambiado la manera en que los ciudadanos entienden la vida social, y más concretamente los jóvenes. En el último lustro, las líneas de investigación que han examinado la presencia de estas herramientas han evolucionado desde el análisis de su influencia en las actitudes de los usuarios hacia la calidad de sus efectos.
... Concerning strategies, we saw an update in discourse production because of new technologies that promote the new key actors, digital opinion leaders, who can or cannot, goes beyond traditional politics and dispute public agenda in another way, quicker, more emotive, and straightforward (de Roca et al. 2020;de Zúñiga et al. 2020). Precisely, it emerges as an exciting mediation possibility, part of the farright repertory. ...
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The concept of “politics of the end” assumes the catastrophe of living in a world that produces new forms of accumulation and allows symbolic and semiotic capital to create value. Currently, various far-right movements worldwide seem to appropriate this concept, employing radical communication strategies as a repertoire to contest the public agenda. These strategies include the massive creation of bots on social networks to spread hate speech and coordinate ideological manifestations. This article seeks to verify the use of these strategies by the Chilean far-right on Twitter. For the above, a social network analysis approach is proposed during the current socio-political crisis in Chile, which began with the massive protests of October 2019 and led to an unprecedented constituent process. For nine months, we studied five opinion leaders on Twitter from the Chilean far-right, who together have more than 600 thousand followers and almost 130 thousand followings. Through descriptive, quantitative, and qualitative techniques, an explicit political action “from the resistance” is revealed in the activity of the network, which includes hundreds of new users and coordinated bots to disseminate identifiable discourses with strongly ideological ideas. This coordination also presents identifiable differences in how opinion leaders interact and communicate with their network environment.
... Besides this unclarity about interpretations, various definitions of offline polarization hamper academic consensus (Bramson et al. 2017;Tucker et al. 2018). Regarding polarization, social media provide a chance to analyze political behavior by elites and partisans (Gil de Zúñiga et al. 2020). For instance, individuals self-sort into ideologically aligned communities by retweeting their behavior when using political party hashtags (Conover 2011;Conover 2012). ...
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Political campaign activities are increasingly digital. A crucial part of digital campaigning is communication efforts on social media platforms. As a forum for political discourse and political communication, parties and candidates on Twitter share public messages and aim to attract media attention and persuade voters. Party or prominent candidate hashtags are a central element of the campaign communication strategy since journalists and citizens search for these hashtags to follow the current debate concerning the hashed party or political candidate. Political elites and partisans use social media strategically, e.g., to link their messages to a broader debate, increase the visibility of messages, criticize other parties, or take over their hashtags (hashjacking). This study investigates the cases of the most recent 2017 and 2021 German federal elections called 'Bundestagswahlen'. The investigation (1) identifies communities of partisans in retweet networks in order to analyze the polarization of the most prominent hashtags of parties, 2) assesses the political behavior by partisan groups that amplify messages by political elites in these party networks, and 3) examines the polarization and strategic behavior of the identified partisan groups in the broader election hashtag debates using #BTW17 and #BTW21 as the prominent hashtags of the 2017 and 2021 elections. While in 2017, the far-right party 'Alternative für Deutschland' (AfD) and its partisans are in an isolated community, in 2021, they are part of the same community as the official party accounts of established conservative and liberal parties. This broader polarization may indicate changes in the political ideology of these actors. While the overall activity of political elites and partisans increased between 2017 and 2021, AfD politicians and partisans are more likely to use other party hashtags, which resulted in the polarization of the observed parts of the German political twitter sphere. While in 2017, the AfD polarized German Twitter, 2021 shows a broader division along the classical left–right divide.
... Scholars have sought to explain his success by focusing on fake news and misinformation (Fullbrook, 2017); economic factors, including the deprivation of post-industrial areas and the rise of automation (Ferguson et al., 2020); social anxieties and the 'appeal' of right-wing populism on specific groups including the less-educated, white males, those with conservative, anti-immigration, anti-establishment views (Donovan and Redlawsk, 2018). 4 A few studies have indeed focused on the function of Trump's rhetoric (Montgomery, 2017;Sclafani, 2018) and theatricality (Brandt, 2020;Day and Wedderburn, 2022) as powerful tools in political communication (see also Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2020). However, only a few of these studies focus on the ontological aspects of political discourse and performativity, highlighting the role of transgressive political style as a pivotal factor in affective identification (Ostiguy and Roberts, 2016). ...
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Donald Trump's style is often described as provocative and his administration as catastrophic. Despite this, his popularity remained high throughout his term in office, and in the 2020 US elections, he received 10 million votes more than in 2016. This paper investigates the paradox of political identification through a discursive, performative and stylistic framework. It argues that policy outcomes and rhetorical consistency do not suffice in understanding identification. Rather, transgression-which is typical of populist performativity-plays a pivotal role in interpellating affective collective subjectivities. This article investigates the case of Donald Trump, from his emergence in 2015 until the 2021 Capitol insurgence. It employs discourse and visual analysis to study Trump's rhetoric and performativity, integrating this with in-depth interviews and ethnographic research to examine the ways his style resonated with his supporters. It concludes that charismatic performativity and transgression play a crucial role in political identification regardless of the quality of institutional performance.
... The results of this analysis are important for US politics as they are relevant to all US Senate and Congress members. Several studies showed that Twitter is an influential political tool to interact with the public on a mass scale to garner votes and organize political movements, even revolutions (such as Christensen 2011;Nulty et al. 2016;Ernst et al. 2017;Duncombe 2019;Gil de Zúñiga et al. 2020;and Vliet et al. 2020). In US politics, the importance of Twitter has increased significantly since the 2016 presidential elections (see Howard et al. 2017;Yaqub et al. 2017;Rizoiu et al. 2018;and Buccoliero et al. 2020). ...
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While conservatives welcomed Musk's takeover of Twitter, liberals sounded the alarm bells. Based on official Twitter accounts belonging to 528 US Senate and Congress members (269 Democrats and 259 Republicans), I empirically analyze how the number of followers of these accounts changes following Twitter's acceptance of Elon Musk's offer on April 25. This study provides the first empirical analysis of changes in politician accounts on social media following this takeover agreement.
... Social media, and Twitter in particular, have been widely used to study various social phenomena [22][23][24][25]. For this study, we collected a set of almost 13 million Slovenian tweets in the three year period, from January 1, 2018 until December 28, 2020. ...
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We address a challenging problem of identifying main sources of hate speech on Twitter. On one hand, we carefully annotate a large set of tweets for hate speech, and deploy advanced deep learning to produce high quality hate speech classification models. On the other hand, we create retweet networks, detect communities and monitor their evolution through time. This combined approach is applied to three years of Slovenian Twitter data. We report a number of interesting results. Hate speech is dominated by offensive tweets, related to political and ideological issues. The share of unacceptable tweets is moderately increasing with time, from the initial 20% to 30% by the end of 2020. Unacceptable tweets are retweeted significantly more often than acceptable tweets. About 60% of unacceptable tweets are produced by a single right-wing community of only moderate size. Institutional Twitter accounts and media accounts post significantly less unacceptable tweets than individual accounts. In fact, the main sources of unacceptable tweets are anonymous accounts, and accounts that were suspended or closed during the years 2018–2020.
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Conference Paper
O atual presidente do Brasil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro (2019-), tem como característica a estratégia de dominar o discurso nas redes sociais quando surgem crises políticas, econômicas ou sociais no país. Além dele e seus apoiantes, compõem tal ambiente de disputa de narrativas a imprensa brasileira, os opositores do governo e os utilizadores de redes sociais. Nesse contexto, as redes sociais fervilham com hashtags verdadeiras e artificiais, alavancadas por perfis falsos no Twitter, que pediam desde o lockdown para contenção do coronavírus em 2020 e o impeachment do presidente, e o seu contrário, que Bolsonaro liderasse um golpe militar, para que governasse sem freios e contrapesos dos demais poderes. Não à toa, as hashtags mais utilizadas durante o período de 2019-2020 referentes ao presidente foram #Bolsonaro, #ForaBolsonaro,#BolsonaroGenocida, #LulaPresidente2022, #BBb21, #Lula, #ForaBolsonaroGenocida, #Lula2022, #LulaVergonhaDoBrasil, #BolsonaroPresidenteAte2026, #COVID19, #BolsonaroPresidente2022, #NemLulaNemBolsonaro, #VacinaParaTodosJa e #ElesNao. Este trabalho vai utilizar dados coletados pela empresa APExata, que obteve dois anos (janeiro de 2019 a dezembro de 2020) de posts no Twitter, geolocalizados em 145 cidades, de todos os 27 estados brasileiros, sobre comentários que tratam do então presidente do Brasil. Nessa mostra, obtida através da análise de sentimentos e polaridades, foram medidas as emoções alegria, confiança, medo e tristeza, com as quais se pôde ponderar se as menções ao presidente foram positivas ou negativas. Os dados mostram menções positivas durante 275 dias (34.03% da coleta total), 463 dias negativos (57.30%) e 70 dias neutros (8.66%). A APExata também realizou avaliação dos picos e vales da popularidade do presidente, que oscilou entre positiva e negativa até o início da pandemia de covid-19 (março de 2020), quando então só se registraram avaliações negativas. Nesta comunicação, será defendida a hipótese de que o presidente utiliza recursos populistas e emocionais (Araújo & Prior, 2021) para reagir aos piores momentos de avaliação nas redes sociais, materializados através de discursos, fatos ou factoides, publicados na imprensa profissional ou nas redes sociais. Para isso, serão apresentadas 10 notícias logo ao dia seguinte algumas das piores avaliações sobre governo, registradas por análise de sentimentos de tweets, entre 3 de janeiro de 2020 e 18 de março de 2021. Destas, será feita uma análise de como recursos populistas e emocionais nos fatos, factoides ou discursos buscaram reverter a queda de popularidade digital de Bolsonaro. O referencial teórico deste trabalho se ancora nos conceitos de emoções (Keltner & Haidt, 2001; Skonieczny, 2018; Barclay, 2021; Umraliyeva et al., 2022); a relação das emoções com o discurso populista (Rico et al., 2017; Kinnvall, 2018; Demertzis, 2019); a ascensão do populismo e do nacionalismo nas mídias sociais (Cesarino, 2019; 2020; Kissas, 2020; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2020; Schroeder, 2021; Mendonça & Caetano, 2021). Peter Dahlgren (2014) afirma que as redes sociais são plataformas com um grande déficit de democracia, uma vez que funcionam à base da replicação da semelhança e não da promoção da diferença; o que potencia o surgimento de um aparente consenso, plasmado em bolhas sem contestação nas relações entre indivíduos intermediadas por essas plataformas online. José Pedro Zúquete (2022) compara o populismo a um camaleão. Talvez por isso, é que os políticos populistas direcionam o seu discurso quase exclusivamente para os novos média, relegando para um lugar nada relevante os média tradicionais, alterando o ecossistema que tem estado em vigor, relativo ao papel escrutinador dos média. Líderes políticos aproveitam a dinâmica de presentismo (Hartog, 2003), em que tudo o que emerge na sociedade, parece ter começado hoje não havendo um histórico que contextualize os procedimentos. O que quer dizer que a simultaneidade terá sido responsável por um novo regime de historicidade, uma espécie de presente contínuo, caracterizado pela aceleração, e em que o presente e o passado se dão a mostrar de forma disruptiva. É nesse quadro que Enzo Traverso (Observing Memories, 2018) sublinha a urgência em libertar o presentismo da sua gaiola – como se produzisse um mundo trancado no presente sem capacidade de olhar para o futuro – acomodando as memórias existentes. Se não houver medidas tendentes a inverter este status quo, como o incremento da regulação dos média -, a situação pode degradar-se para níveis de difícil recuperação. Mesmo que a indignação, quando exercida pelos cidadãos, continue a contribuir para resolver conflitos e problemas (Innerarity, 2019). O que pode, por outro lado, significar que as redes sociais que ajudaram a abrir o caminho a Bolsonaro, também podem destituí-lo, caso não corresponda às expectativas de quem o elegeu (Fernandes, 2018). Araújo, B., & Prior, H. (2021). Framing political populism: The role of media in framing the election of Jair Bolsonaro. Journalism Practice, 15(2), 226-242. Barclay, K. (2021). Emotions in the history of emotions. History of Psychology, 24(2), 112–115. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000162 Cesarino, L. (2019). On digital populism in Brazil. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 15. __________. (2020). How social media affords populist politics: remarks on liminality based on the Brazilian case. Trabalhos em Linguística Aplicada, 59, 404-427. Dahlgren, P. (2014). Participation and alternative democracy: social media and their contingencies. InP. Serra; E. Camilo & G. Gonçalves. Political participation and Web 2.0. Covilhã: LabCom Books, 61-85. Demertzis, N. (2006). Emotions and populism. Emotion, politics and society, 103-122. Fernandes, J. (2018, 29 de outubro). “Haddad é Lula” e Bolsonaro ganhou: as redes sociais nas eleições brasileiras. Retirado de https://www.publico.pt/2018/10/29/mundo/opiniao/haddad-lula-bolsonaro-ganhou-redes-sociais-eleicoes-brasileiras-1849274 Gil de Zúñiga, H., Koc Michalska, K., & Römmele, A. (2020). Populism in the era of Twitter: How social media contextualized new insights into an old phenomenon. New Media & Society, 22(4), 585-594. Hartog, F. (2003). Regimes d’Historicité: presentisme et experiences du temps. Paris: Seuil. Innerarity, D. (2019). Política para perplexos. Porto: Porto Editora. Mendonça, R. F., & Caetano, R. D. (2021). Populism as parody: The visual self-presentation of Jair Bolsonaro on Instagram. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 26(1), 210-235. Rico, G., Guinjoan, M., & Anduiza, E. (2017). The emotional underpinnings of populism: How anger and fear affect populist attitudes. Swiss Political Science Review, 23(4), 444-461. Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2001). Social functions of emotions. In T. J. Mayne & G. A. Bonanno (Eds.), Emotions: Currrent issues and future directions (pp. 192–213). Guilford Press. Kinnvall, C. (2018). Ontological insecurities and postcolonial imaginaries: The emotional appeal of populism. Humanity & society, 42(4), 523-543. Kissas, A. (2020). Performative and ideological populism: The case of charismatic leaders on Twitter. Discourse & society, 31(3), 268-284. Schroeder, R. (2021). Digital Media and the Globalizing Spread of Populism. The Routledge Handbook of Digital Media and Globalization, 179-187. Skonieczny, A. (2018). Emotions and political narratives: Populism, Trump and trade. Politics and Governance, 6(4), 62-72. Umraliyeva, D., Ayazbay, O., Yesbergenova, B., & Skidanova, A. (2022). How emotions can influence customers' Decision Making Process via Social Media?. Zúquete, J. P. (2022). Populismo - Lá fora e cá dentro. Lisboa: Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos.
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The 2019 European Parliament elections were held in Spain in a context of political fragmentation and polarisation, following the recent incorporation of the extreme right into the national parliament. Elections to the European Parliament are considered second-order elections and are sometimes used by citizens to cast a punishment vote, favouring new political actors of a contestatary character to gain visibility. Social media networks such as Facebook play an important role because they offer these parties a space where they can disseminate their messages on equal terms, beyond media control. This study conducts a content analysis of the posts published on Facebook by Spanish national political parties in the month prior to the 2019 local, regional and European elections. The main goal is to analyse the communication strategy used by Spanish political parties in this social media, in order to find out the importance given by the parties to the European elections and whether there are differences in strategy at each level. The results reveal that the European elections are a third-order election for Spanish parties, behind local elections. Most parties practice a dual campaign, in which the topics, goals and emotions posted on Facebook vary according to the political level at which they are targeted. This tendency is more pronounced in populist parties and seems to be shaped by the national political context and aimed at matching the concerns of Spaniards at the European level. Despite the incorporation of the extreme right into the Spanish political chessboard, the negative Eurosceptic discourse is only present in the two populist parties and does not affect the rest of the political forces.
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Social media are said to be a core driver of populists’ current success. Yet, our knowledge of how populist politicians use social media is limited. We argue that they can use Twitter and Facebook, politically the most important platforms, as a “double-barreled gun,” each serving a different target. Based on the architecture of the platforms and the populist ideology, we expect that Twitter is used to name and shame journalists publicly, Facebook to activate anger among citizens. Both types of use are examined by studying the Members of Parliament (MPs) of Austria, The Netherlands, and Sweden. We collected 9852 tweets for the 475 MPs on Twitter and 10,355 Facebook posts from the 287 MPs with a Facebook Page. Using negative binomial regression and content analyses, we find that populists seem eager to activate anger. They are not more likely to @-mention media accounts, but “shame” them roughly three times more often.
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The health of democratic public spheres is challenged by the circulation of falsehoods. These epistemic problems are connected to social media and they raise a classic problem of how to understand the role of technology in political developments. We discuss three sets of technological affordances of social media that facilitate the spread of false beliefs: obscuring the provenance of information, facilitating deception about authorship, and providing for manipulation of social signals. We argue that these do not make social media a “cause” of problems with falsehoods, but explanations of epistemic problems should account for social media to understand the timing and widespread occurrence of epistemic problems. We argue that “the marketplace of ideas” cannot be adequate as a remedy for these problems, which require epistemic editing by the press.
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How populists engage with media of various types, and are treated by those media, are questions of international interest. In the United States, Donald Trump stands out for both his populism-inflected campaign style and his success at attracting media attention. This article examines how interactions between candidate communications, social media, partisan media, and news media combined to shape attention to Trump, Clinton, Cruz, and Sanders during the 2015–2016 American presidential primary elections. We identify six major components of the American media system and measure candidates’ efforts to gain attention from them. Our results demonstrate that social media activity, in the form of retweets of candidate posts, provided a significant boost to news media coverage of Trump, but no comparable boost for other candidates. Furthermore, Trump tweeted more at times when he had recently garnered less of a relative advantage in news attention, suggesting he strategically used Twitter to trigger coverage.
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Many observers are concerned that echo chamber effects in digital media are contributing to the polarization of publics and, in some places, to the rise of right-wing populism. This study employs survey data collected in France, the United Kingdom and the United States (1500 respondents in each country) from April to May 2017. Overall, we do not find evidence that online/social media explain support for right-wing populist candidates and parties. Instead, in the United States, use of online media decreases support for right-wing populism. Looking specifically at echo chamber measures, we find offline discussion with those who are similar in race, ethnicity and class positively correlates with support for populist candidates and parties in the United Kingdom and France. The findings challenge claims about the role of social media and the rise of populism.
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This article sets out the case that democracies are now entering a fourth phase of “data-driven” political campaigning. Building on the existing campaigns literature, we identify several key shifts in practice that define the new phase, namely: (1) an organizational and strategic dependency on digital technology and “big data,” (2) a reliance on networked communication, (3) the individualized micro-targeting of campaign messages, and (4) the internationalization of the campaign sphere. Departing from prior studies, we also argue that the new phase is distinguished, by a bifurcation, into two variants—the scientific and the subversive. While sharing a common core, these two modes differ, in that the former retains a commitment to the normative goals of campaigning, that is, to mobilize and inform voters, while the latter explicitly rejects and subverts these aims, focusing instead on demobilization and the spread of misinformation. Both are presented as abstract or “ideal” types, although we do point out how features of each have appeared in recent election campaigns by mainstream and populist parties. We conclude by discussing the implications of these trends for the long-term future health of democracy.
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Populism, as many have observed, is a communication phenomenon as much as a coherent ideology whose mass appeal stems from the fiery articulation of core positions, notably hostility toward “others,” bias against elites in favor of “the people,” and the transgressive delivery of those messages. Yet much of what we know about populist communication is based on analysis of candidate pronouncements, the verbal message conveyed at political events and over social media, rather than transgressive performances—the visual and tonal markers of outrage—that give populism its distinctive flair. The present study addresses this gap in the literature by using detailed verbal, tonal, and nonverbal coding of the first US presidential debate of 2016 between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to show how Trump’s transgressive style—his violation of normative boundaries, particularly those related to protocol and politeness, and open displays of frustration and anger—can be operationalized from a communication standpoint and used in statistical modeling to predict the volume of Twitter response to both candidates during the debate. Our findings support the view that Trump’s norm-violating transgressive style, a type of political performance, resonated with viewers significantly more than Clinton’s more controlled approach and garnered Trump substantial second-screen attention.
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The rising voter support for populist parties in Western Democracies in recent years has incited academic interest in populist voters and attitudes connected to the voting propensity of populist actors. In line of this research, numerous scales to measure populist attitudes among voters have been proposed. In most cases, however, the measurement of populist attitudes was tailored to specific countries and its applicability to cross-national research on populism was not assessed. This article uses a cross-national survey to assess the measurement invariance, reliability, and validity of a deductively developed inventory for populist attitudes. The findings suggest that there is a common attitudinal base to left- and right-wing populism which may be measured reliably and invariantly across nations.
Book
Cambridge Core - Political Sociology - Cultural Backlash - by Pippa Norris