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Platform Effects on Anti-Elitism in the European Radical Right

Elites
Populism
Social Media
European Parliament
Michael Vaughan
Freie Universität Berlin
Annett Heft
Freie Universität Berlin
Michael Vaughan
Freie Universität Berlin

Abstract

Anti-elitism plays a central role in contemporary politics, most prominently through its association with populism, defined in its most minimal terms as the opposition between the ‘pure people’ and the ‘corrupt elite’ (Mudde, 2007). This homogenizing rhetoric, however, can obscure the ways in which antagonism toward actual elites is highly selective. The same political actors can be observed blaming some elites while valorising others (Caiani & Della Porta, 2011), and the role of the “pure” anti-elite can be performed by elites themselves (Salman & Sologuren, 2011). This paper argues that one of the key factors in the dynamics of contemporary anti-elitism is the differentiated role of digital platforms. Personalization has been described both in the social media use of political parties generally (Enli & Skogerbø, 2013) and right-wing populist parties in particular (Krämer, 2017). Social media also provides a wider range of affordances for mobilization than legacy media especially for newer oppositional parties (Magin et al., 2017). These platform effects of social media are expected to contribute to emotionalized language and conflictual communication, which in turn is observable as anti-elitism. In order to explore this argument, the paper compares data from Facebook pages and website homepages from the same set of radical right political party actors in the period around the 2019 European Parliament elections (Jan-May 2019). The dataset includes party organisations and leaders from six European countries: Austria’s FPÖ, Germany’s AfD, France’s RN, Italy’s Lega, Poland’s PiS, and the SD from Sweden. A mixed methods research design combines two stages of analysis. Firstly, a computational approach quantifies negative sentiment against specific material elites using Named Entity Recognition and sentiment analysis, focusing on three dimensions: salience, sentiment and scope (whether the elite is a primarily national or EU actor). Secondly, qualitative analysis of more discursive constructions of “the elite” enables detection of differentiated processes of elite-blaming by distinguishing between frames. Anti-elitism is expected to be more salient and intense on Facebook than website homepages, reflecting the platform logic of social media, while other features such as scope (national versus European) and framing are expected to vary with other national contextual factors.