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Populism Online: Digital Media and the Rise of Right Wing Politics

Comparative Politics
Media
Populism
Ralph Schroeder
University of Oxford
Ralph Schroeder
University of Oxford

Abstract

This paper compares four right wing populist movements; Donald Trump in the US, Narendra Modi in India, the Sweden Democrats, and Chinese nationalists. The paper argues that digital media have been a necessary precondition for their success, but in quite different ways, depending on the media system in each country. Common to all four, however, is that digital media have bypassed traditional media gatekeepers. Trump’s success was in dominating the agenda of mainstream media via his use of Twitter. In India, Modi used Twitter to mobilize his Hindutva supporters, like Trump, circumventing his own party. Sweden Democrats have online newspapers that create an alternative to the consensus in public broadcasting media and among parties that locks them out. And in China, the government uneasily keeps in check extremists who promote the stronger assertion of a nationalist agenda using social media. The strength of populism cannot be understood without a theory that takes into account how new technologies enable parties and movements to become counterpublics that reshape the political agenda in media.