Why are Conventional Parties weaker Online?
Social media is a big part of everyday life. People all over the world use it as a way of connection. Far-right ideology has found a great part in that. We recognize extremist ideology all over social media. Unlock your phone and check your instagram. It won’t take you long to be confronted with far-right ideology. When looking at for example instagram, far-right parties usually have high numbers of followers and likes, significantly more than the conventional parties even though they might have more seats in the government. Social media is helpful to far-right parties while the conventional parties are lacking in social media presence.
Take a look at the Instagram account of the Dutch party VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie), a conservative, liberal party with the largest numbers of votes and the FVD (Forum voor Democratie) a far-right party. Even though the FVD has less actual voters they have about 17 thousand followers more than the VVD on instagram. Does that surprise you? Let me explain how this happens.
Social Media as a new way of political communication
Social Media has opened a new, very direct way of political communication and has become an unavoidable political medium. Usually, when parties or politicians react or give an opinion on specific topics, it will then be further diffused by journalists. The culture of social media politics however, is very different to the traditional way and has reshaped the dynamics of making politics. Nowadays, parties do not have to wait to be heard. They can immediately create a post, in which they can position themselves without having to go through any formal process, such as journalistic revision in order to gain medial attention. Social media has established a base on which private individuals can interact with official parties or politicians directly, making these more approachable to possible voters.
Any press is good press
The far-right behaves clever online. Far-right parties try to trigger emotions online. They have realized how the “online world” benefits them. Using provocative language rewards users, with medial attention. The posts of far-right parties online, are often filled with racism, hatred and fake news, triggering a snowball effect. Topics which generate lots of discussion are rewarded by algorithms presenting the posts to an even wider audience. Companies such as Meta, have very lenient guidelines on postings. Another reason for the online power of the far-right lies within the online presentation of the social media accounts. The American research professor Trent Davies has made a comparison between the German far-right party AfD and the liberal party FDP. While the AfD posted 4.000 pictures within a week in October 2019 on facebook, the FDP only posted 100 pictures in a week. The pictures the AfD posted were created to generate “talk” and receive waves of response. Far-right parties know that not only good press gives them medial attention. They try to create controversy. By making use of an easy language, they appeal to a wider audience. Far-right parties try to position themselves as a people-oriented party which is not only for the elite but for “everyone”. The far-right parties want to engage other users and want them to react and “feel something”. They engage users by making use of tools such as asking questions or creating short polls in which users can participate, making users feel like their opinion is valued and heard.
What are conventional parties doing wrong?
The conventional parties of Europe have had difficulties reacting to this online movement. While far-right parties are able to attract online, the conventional parties are lacking, how is this possible?
It seems to be the exact reasons for which the far-right is prospering, that have proven difficult for the conventional, central parties. As mentioned above, far-right parties try to trigger emotions online. A conventional party does not create as much “talk” since their statements are less controversial. They do not polarize as much. Using pictures, as mentioned by Trent Davies also further complicates things for conventional parties. The pictures posted by the different parties do not only differ in quantity but also content wise. Conventional parties do not attempt to trigger emotions but want to inform and use pictures as a tool of clarification. Social media users are very attracted to sensation. This feeling is not created by the conventional parties. They inform, but do not make users gasp.
Social media gives the opportunity of fast, non-revised or checked exchange of information. I believe that it is important to understand the way, the far-right uses social media. We are responsible for the reaction those accounts get online. I would like to ask everyone of you to check and question the information provided on social media. We have to be aware of the fact, how attracted we are to scandal. I bet you would have not checked my blog if it was simply called: a look at social media and politics. Social media is meant to attract, in order to generate likes, follows and shares – always keep that in mind.