far-right observer

Social media versus reality: How representative is this tool in assessing far-right opinions?

Photo by Nick Markus on Unsplash.com

An exciting new medium?

Social media has been an exciting development for politics. Facebook and Twitter in particular have let academics gather large samples of data to shed light on discussions between far-right supporters. But how representative is this data? These sites are mostly used as a platform by devoted and extreme far-right followers. This means that we do not get a complete picture of the rest of the more moderate supporters. To add to this problem, it seems that up to a third of far-right social media followers end up not following suit in elections. More generally, the rising usage of social media has allowed people to leverage their influence. Some research has documented a common and modern phenomenon, notably trolling. This consists of actors who are opposed to the far-right ideas yet still join on social media to pose as a devoted follower with the prime goal of stirring confusion. Recent times have seen the emergence of the so-called “alt-right”, a group that has successfully engaged in such “trolling” with the popular media outlets with an aim of promoting their ideas. These groups are credited with uploading explicit and attention-grabbing media content by means of posting videos on social media. The hope is that mainstream news reports pick up on them and further spread publicity.

What are the advantages of this tool?

On the plus side, social media has been a particularly helpful tool for studying far-right rhetoric. Research has been able to capitalise on the time-stamped feature of comments and posts, including much valuable information on follower activity allowing researchers to uncover prejudices among far-right groups. Social media is unique in the sense that the collected data is “non-reactive” which means it is gathered with stealth and with no interference. The advantage is that social desirability biases, whereby people act in a way that is favorably seen, do not happen. Another way of using social media sites is to observe the far-right leaders’ ideological narrative by going through their personal feeds on Twitter, a short text-driven social media website. It contains a big collection of quotes by political leaders, which the popular media has systematically used during reporting.

Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash.com

Hypocrisy after election to office

Interestingly, research indicated that far-right politicians seem to moderate their stance in the lead-up to elections and especially if they get elected to office. This theory is called “inclusion-moderation thesis” and is well documented in academic literature. It happens due to the competitiveness of election campaigns which pushes far-right politicians to “tone down” their most extreme opinions, which inevitably causes a shift of far-right politics towards a more acceptable version that can be attractive to the moderate electorate. The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) is a clear example that illustrates the inclusion-moderation in action, as they entered talks to form a coalition in 2010 and build a minority government consisting of the CDA, and the VVD, a more moderate party. Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV party, famously accused the political class of being the “corrupt elite” and supported the “common Dutch” as the victims of it on his social media posts. Ironically, when Wilders took to his governmental role, his rhetoric was impossible to stand by as he now was a part of the very establishment he once criticized. The far-right leader did in fact change his discourse, and suppressed his criticisms of the “political elite”. This neatly illustrates the inclusion-moderation effect, as Geert Wilders ultimately had to tame his political views to fit the mainstream. 

Photo from Geert Wilders’s profile on Twitter.com

The verdict

All in all, there are many advantages of social media as a tool to observe the far-right narrative. The large amounts of raw data available allow for an extensive array of far-right views. Despite this, certain obstacles make it hard to justify its reliability. The far-right following on social media does not represent the average sympathiser. Also, the widespread presence of trolling gets in the way of coming up with meaningful research, as is virtually impossible to distinguish sarcasm by trolls from genuine views by the devoted followers. Adding to the confusion, disagreement about what happens post-election still divides scholars, making the inclusion-moderation effect a hot topic. To settle this debate, more research needs to be aimed at specific case examination of other far-right politicians, like the ex-US President Donald Trump or Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, to compare their respective shifts in rhetorics. This could be done by analysing their social media activity at key moments, before and after their election to power. Nevertheless, the latest Cambridge Analytica scandal has compelled social media platforms to introduce new restrictions on tools that access information on their platform. With this in mind, it is now harder to use social media to gather primary data. We still believe it is a gold mine when it comes to collecting relevant and current data on the far-right and should be explored to its fullest.

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11 thoughts on “Social media versus reality: How representative is this tool in assessing far-right opinions?

  1. Hi! Nice blog entry! We found the part about trolling very interesting! We have a couple of suggestions. First, we would work a bit more on the introduction. Maybe end it with an outline of what you are going to discuss or just a simple phrase or question that shows what the main theme of your blog is. Second, we noticed you do not have subheadings yet, so that is still something you should add. Furthermore, with adding subheadings, you will be able to better divide your work into paragraphs. We think at the moment, the paragraphs are too long, making it a bit difficult to read (as a blog). Third, we like the pictures you chose to accompany the blog, however, we noticed there are no references below them. Maybe that is because it was not necessary, but it might be worth thinking about, as it now seems like the pictures are not accredited. Fourth, we would be careful with the word “coalition” when referring to the deal between the PVV, CDA and VVD. In 2010, there was indeed a deal, but the PVV was not part of the ‘Kabinet’. It is referred to as a “gedoogakkoord”. Maybe look into this a bit more to avoid confusion. Moreover, don’t forget when referring to the CDA to write out the full name of the party first. Fifth, we think you did a good job with the conclusion and made a nice reference to further research avenues. However, if possible, try to position yourself more explicitly in the debate, or contribute something more personal. Overall, we think this is a very interesting topic and well written blog! Our main suggestion is to restructure it, using paragraphs and subheadings, as now it seems like a lot of information, which is a bit overwhelming to read. Also don’t forget hyperlinks. We are looking forward to reading the finished product!

    1. Hi Anna! Thank you for your astute remarks regarding the referenced “coalition”. I shall look into this and clarify it in my post. Retarding the structure, I am still working on integrating the hyperlinks and adding some engaging sub headings.

      1. Dear Boris, we are glad to hear our feedback has been useful to you! We see you have already implemented changes like adding subheadings which has definitely improved the structure of your blog! We also like the possible research avenues you hint towards in your conclusion! Great work! 🙂

  2. This is a very interesting blog post. The pictures are very well chosen and underline the topic nicely (just don’t forget to use references). The introduction could also be a bit more precise and maybe even a bit longer. The format of you blog could still become a bit more structured, tools such as headlines can be very helpful here, in order to make the blog post more appealing to read and structure it better. Also, don’t forget to use hyperlinks in order to be able to trace back your information. The title is very well chosen, we especially like that you used a question since this is a very captivating way of ensuring interest in what you have written. The language is also good and easy to follow without being too “nonacademic”. Overall, it is a well-written, good blog post which is only missing references and would need some restructuring. Keep up the good work!!

    1. Thanks for your feedback Macy! I will add sub headings to structure the post more coherently. I appreciate the reminder to add hyperlinks and references for the pictures. Those points will be amended in the final post.

  3. We enjoyed reading your post and we can see that you have done exhaustive research about the topic. Nevertheless, we have some suggestions for you to improve. Firstly, we would recommend dividing the text with different sub-headings and reducing the length of the paragraphs. Secondly, we would suggest you to shorten the text in general (just a few quotes less) so that it can become easier to read. Thirdly, don’t forget to add hyperlinks and to position yourself in the debate, maybe in the last paragraph. Lastly, it would appreciated if you could add some context under the pictures you used (mostly the first). We hope you will find our advices useful and if you need any clarification please let us know!

    1. Thank you for your feedback! Adding subheadings and references is indeed something that needs doing. I will work on a more opinionated conclusion to position myself more.

      1. We now see the final version of your blog and we find it very well-done! We’re glad to see all the hyperlinks and sub-headings. Good job

  4. Good job! We are really impressed by your in-depth analysis of this very special interaction between social media and the far-right. You undoubtedly demonstrate a thorough understanding of your topic, and this is remarkable. However, since no one is perfect, we still have a few recommendations to make to help you improve your final version. First, as a general comment we made to most of your colleagues, do not forget to capitalize the first letters in your title. Regarding the latter, we consider that you should rephrase it since it is neither smooth nor catchy. Second, other comments reminded you to integrate hyperlinks and headings, so I guess their absence at this stage is due to the fact that your post is not finalized yet. Third, do not forget to credit images you use, and briefly describe what they represent. Fourth, we would definitely advise you to shorten your paragraphs. This would make your post more accessible and pleasant to read. And last but not least, we found that your text sounded very, very academic. Remember that a blog post must be written in an informal tone, in order to reach a wide audience. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you for your feedback! Adding subheadings and references is something I have since remedied. I have thought about the title not being catchy enough. However, I got positive feedback about it from other colleagues which leads me to leave it as is. I shortened the paragraphs as you suggested, which made the reading a more pleasant experience. I appreciate you taking the time to read my post and good luck with finalizing your blog!

      1. Good evening Boris! We are glad to see that our feedback helped you improve your post! This final version is no doubt much better than the previous one. The fact that you shortened the paragraphs directly adds fluidity to your text and makes the overall reading experience much more pleasant. Well done also for having added hyperlinks! No problem, if you like your title, you should definitely keep it as it is. Keep up the good work, and good luck with the completion of your blog!

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