Dissertation Written by: Daniel Wheeler
Introduction For Public Posting
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Methods
– Rationale For Methodology
– Methodology – Ethical Considerations
Chapter 3: Literature Review
Chapter 4: Social Media & The Tactics of the Far-Right
– The Emergence and Evolution of the British Far-Right
– Hashtag President: The Use of Slogans in the U.S. Far-Right
Chapter 5: Britain First: A Nefarious Face of Patriotism
– Fake News in the U.S.A
– The Kids Are Alt-Right: The Role of Young Digital Activists in Trump’s Rise to Power
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Introduction for Public Posting
Before I post this on my WordPress I thought I’d add a personal preamble to address some points about this piece.
Firstly and most importantly I am not a great academic and for this reason and others, the piece is not perfect. It did achieve a 1:1 grade or a “First” as it’s known in University in the U.K. but I myself acknowledge that it is flawed, not that I now believe any of it to be incorrect. It is flawed in that much of the discourse herein is displayed and repurposed via the filter of my own interpretation of my sources (listed in the bibliography) and other real world events meaning that my sources are factual (to the very best of my knowledge) but my subsequent reaction and analysis are personal interpretations influenced by my understanding of them.
Secondly, it is biased. I am aware of this and did not intend the piece to be a balanced essay that praised the far-right as much as it did condemn it. The writing of the piece was conceived, planned, executed and submitted by me in full knowledge that I was aiming to write a piece critiquing the actions and mindsets of the far-right and its supporters. With this in mind I was careful to use factual sources by authors and academics so that my base material in itself can be defended, my elaboration on these sources rests with me, my opinions and interpretations alone.
(I may edit this section in future if I receive any comments that ask for a response from myself.)
The early parts of the 21st Century have seen a major surge in support for Far-Right political groups, with not only the presence of these groups growing but, according to estimates from Germany’s domestic intelligence service showing 9,500 ‘potentially violent’ right wing extremists, also the rise in tendency of far right groups to take violent action and, as predicted by Ramalingam of The Guardian in 2014, the English Defence League’s uncertain future caused splinter groups to form and some former members of the EDL to join the likes of Britain First who aim to be a legitimate political party but more commonly act like a disorganised street gang. (Ramalingam, 2014). Examples of this have been seen in the UK with street marches perpetrated by Britain First have often been seen to descend into confrontation and sometimes physical fights, this as well as extremely violent rhetoric by its leaders, a statement from deputy leader Jayda Fransen in a, now deleted, social media post during Britain First’s unsuccessful London Mayoral election campaign which reads in part: “We will not rest until every traitor is punished for their crimes against our country. And by punished, I mean good old fashioned British justice at the end of a rope!” (York, 2016).
The focus of this dissertation will be to examine the role social media has played in the exponential rise of support for Far-Right extremist groups and in turn wider culture in the 21st Century, with particular focus on the United Kingdom and United States of America. The use of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter has allowed the doctrine of these groups to spread throughout the world and lead to a rapid increase in radical behaviour among the Far-Right in the United Kingdom, such as a general wave of Islamophobia and street marches by groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First, who themselves are well known for invading mosques and angrily confronting the worshippers within (Dearden, 2014). As well as the UK, I will examine social media’s influence on the far right wing in the USA in the form of online news sources such as Breitbart in the form of widespread hate speech by the emerging Alt-Right groups in recent years. Further examined will be how their movements lead to a conjoining of mind-sets from different areas within the right wing, some more moderate than others, and how this in itself has led to a sense of shared ideology among the Alt-Right which in part contributed to the popularity of 2016 Presidential candidate Donald Trump, which led to his subsequent election, among those groups as well as a blanket popularity for a large proportion of disillusioned Republicans and undecided voters.
The central research question this dissertation will answer is; “How has social media led to a rise in right-wing extremism in the United Kingdom and United States of America?” To attempt to answer this question I will endeavour to examine how the interconnectivity of the Internet, and specifically social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow ideas to travel quickly between many people. One such example that shall be examined is the conveying of propagandist tactics through the use of “memes” a word first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1989 work “The Selfish Gene” which described a self-replicating unit of transmission that are propagated by “leaping from brain to brain” in a manner akin to imitation. (Dawkins, 1989: p.192), a process that perfectly describes the way the Internet spreads ideas. An example of this is the use of a meme known as “Pepe The Frog” (pictured) (Furie cited in Cross & Martinez, 2016),
that became more than a comic strip-inspired internet joke when right wing extremists on the website ‘4chan’ began to use his image to further their agenda, user @JaredTSwift told The Daily Beast “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda etc. We built that association” (Nuzzi, 2016).
This led to Pepe The Frog becoming listed as a hate symbol by the ADL or ‘Anti-Defamation League’ (BBC, 2016) This is one of the main factors I will assess as to how right-wing extremism spreads its ideas through the use of provocative imagery and propaganda. The race-relations aspect of the question will be approached by comparing the state of race relations in the USA and UK at the current time, to that of the before social media was prevalent or influential in the wake of politics finding a social media platform in the early mid 2000s following the creation of MySpace and Facebook. Part of the conclusion of this dissertation will involve assessing whether social media has hindered race relations in the two countries, the state of which has fluctuated significantly over recent decades, experiencing some tragic lows of periods of volatility amongst periods of relative calm. While social media can be seen in situations such as these to be a tool of the Far-Right, it is of note that the platform has also been used to counteract Far-Right ideology through such incidences as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ hashtag movement that originated on Twitter to bring attention to institutional racism in the U.S.A’s law enforcement following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin (Stephen, 2015). The #BlackLivesMatter movement has become a widespread phenomenon that has brought large amounts of attention to an extremely relevant issue in American society. The cause for understanding this topic is important because, not only can we see that social media despite, its many useful aspects can contribute greatly to societal unrest and divide, but the research will also help explain the reasons as to why groups being able to gather on mass via social media lead to the groups strengthening so significantly.
One of the primary aims of this piece is to address a gap in the knowledge as to where support for groups such as Britain First in the UK and Alt-Right media in the USA including Breitbart has arisen from in recent years, seeing alignment, both officially through membership and unofficially through the likes of social media following, rise exponentially in an almost directly proportional fashion to the rise in popularity of social media itself. Considering these developments are relatively new and in many cases still on-going there is, to my mind, a considerable lack of studies and insight into what is an already large and still growing issue in modern society which appears to only be gathering pace and momentum. This dissertation will provide insight into the causes and impact of this issue by analysing the methods with which Far-Right groups utilise social media to either mobilise themselves in groups, or gain support.
Along with the focal research question; “How has social media led to a rise in right-wing extremism in the USA and United Kingdom and how has this affected race relations?” will be a number of individual questions I shall consider in an attempt to find a resolution for the overarching question above which will in part form the content of some chapters of this piece. The first of these question based chapters will attempt to answer “what stimulates the group mentality of the members of right-wing organisations?” an important question when looking at members’ reasons for joining up with right wing ideologies in the first place. Secondly, “What methods and tactics are used by right-wing organisations to stir feelings within their support base?” is a further question that will assess the methodology of the groups as a whole, not their individual members, that is used to attract new members while furthering their ideology.
The final question is the second part of the primary question; “How has this affected race relations politically and in day to day life, as well as online?” as the issue of race relations being affected the popularity and activities of right wing social media groups is one of the focal points of the dissertation as a whole I will address it last of all when answering the overall question as a whole in my concluding statements.
Due to the subject matter of this dissertation being particularly current it will require primary research in order to assess the up to date and as of yet still developing nature of the Far-Right’s use and importance of social media, this primary research will offer its own insight into the topic and provide a useful addition to the secondary analysis of other literature and sources that will complete the rest of the research. The far right in the United Kingdom has been researched in detail by few authors and academics, the work of one of which, Matthew J Goodwin, I shall be drawing on considerably in the first chapter concerning the relationship between the far right in the UK and a use of social media. The Far-Right in the U.S.A and particularly the modern “Alt-Right” movement the majority of my research shall be centred around is of such modernity that usage of secondary analysis of existing literature on this matter is limited by necessity to news coverage and articles of the on-goings of the American far right. Drawbacks to the usage of social media in research have been outlined by in a 2014 study by NatCen Social Research who list peoples’ tendency to “behave differently” in “online and “offline spheres, the anonymity provided by the online sphere affording people the perceived freedom to voice “exaggerated views”, “impulsive comments” posted in a heat-of-the-moment type scenario and “inaccurate profiles” allowing for the misrepresentation of an individual (Beninger et al., 2014: p.2).
I will attempt in my research to circumvent these drawbacks as much as possible by focusing largely on the output of recognised and established organisations such as Breitbart in America and Britain First in the U.K. that may not command a great deal of respect from more traditional media outlets, but certainly hold themselves to their own interpretations of high standards, meaning their media outputs are likely to be thought out, considered and accurate representations of the views of the organisations. My research into the possible mentality behind the growing numbers of support for outlets such as these will have some focus on individuals which may lead to issues such as those proposed by Beninger et al. but, wherever possible, I attempt to back up my findings with more reliable research.
My primary research is comprised of surveying and analysing the activities of both far right groups themselves, in terms of their physical activities as reported on by news outlets such as the Huffington Post UK’s dedicated coverage of street marches and other such activities conducted by Britain First. Also, the content of their online presence through commonly used social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. By observing groups’ activities in this way I hope to gain additional insight into the mindset of its members, how they interact with eachother and the group’s content and, through doing this, I will also be able to gauge and examine trends in locations, ages and ethnicities that make up the majority of far right group membership. My exact methodology in this research will be to access the public social media feeds and pages of groups relating to both the far right in the United Kingdom including Britain First and the English Defence League, and read postings and blogs by Alt-Right groups in the United States of America including Breitbart which themselves act as a means of social media and are commonly shared around Twitter and Facebook. In the UK section therefore, I will specifically be researching the activities of Britain First and the English Defence League by observing their official social media outlets, these include the official pages and accounts of the groups themselves, and the personal accounts of the individuals that lead or have lead these groups in the past, including Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen of Britain First via the organisations Facebook page and their respective Twitter accounts, and former EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s Twitter account also. News outlets commonly assessed for representations of these groups’ activities will be Huffington Post UK and other news outlets where appropriate.
The analysis of the U.S.A’s far right movement will operate similarly, with the Breitbart organisation being the primary focus of my research, their website, Facebook page and personal accounts or activities of Breitbart personalities of recent years such as Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous, both of whom have since left the organisation for different reasons.
Rationale for Methodology
An analytical survey of the Far-Right’s media activity was chosen as a primary research method for this dissertation because it allows an observation of the workings of such groups without the risk of becoming involved. Surveying public Internet forums has allowed me to gather insight into how the groups work, how they spread their message and what types of people are attracted to them. This has allowed me to posture the reasoning for the growing relationship between increasingly popular far right social media and increasingly mainstream far right politics becoming successful and prevalent such as much of the Brexit campaign’s anti-immigration basis which took advantage of increasing support for the far right in the UK, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America which similarly rode on a metaphorical wave of extremist nationalism driven by heightened numbers of newly emboldened far right supporters.
The method of viewing online forums such as specific social media pages or blogs falls within the boundaries of visual materials being used research and, while I will be attempting to ensure the sources I view are produced by real people rather than fake social media/online profiles, although many of these types of sources may be observed in order to draw conclusions, they will not be mentioned in the essay as, due to ethical considerations, the choice was made to focus the research sources I actually present on recognised public figures or media outlets and public reaction to them, rather than the reactions themselves. Other types of visual resources have been commented on for recording only a “partial versions of the truth” as suggested in Clive Seale’s Researching Society and Culture’ by contributor Suki Ali, as the researcher could “choose what to record and where and how to present it” (Ali in Seale, 2012, p285). While Ali’s comments here were centred on the medium of film, comparisons can be drawn to my research of this topic using images and comments from websites due to the argument that I can only reasonably include a small subsection of the content on each page as evidence in this piece and my work’s ethical reliability hereby depends on my ability to ensure my research sources are as representative as possible and displayed in such a way that it presents itself as only an insight into these types of groups and not as a source from which to assume the mindset and thoughts of each individual member. The prevalence of the Far-Right in modern politics leads to the assumption of a considerable proportion of the general population having sympathies for that ideology. Considering the members of these groups make up such a proportion of society, for the Far-Right and its activities to be assessed in terms of its role in and impact on wider society it is important to assess them as part of the whole and avoid creating a sense of ‘otherness’ (Ali in Seale, 2012, 286). This can be difficult when looking at a political ideology due to there being distinctive boundaries based on several opinions such as stances on immigration, abortion and LGBTQ equality and marriage.
Methodology – Ethical Considerations
In light of this dissertation containing some forms of primary research, in terms of the usage of social media postings, it was necessary to assess and consider the possibility of ethical issues arising from my choice of covert observational research. I decided to assess my work’s ethical validity along the lines of the 4 main ethical principles outlined in Alan Bryman’s Social Research Methods textbook (Bryman, 2012, p.135). Firstly came the question of whether my research could, directly or indirectly, cause harm to those I am observing. Due to the subject matter being a sensitive and highly volatile one it stands to reason that there could be grounds for readers of the piece to become offended by the content of what may be said by people and their social media groups and forums, because there is a chance of this happening, however remote it may be, the precaution has been resolved to obscure the names and any display pictures or photographs of otherwise non-public figures in the screenshots used to exemplify groups’ social media activity, should the need for their use arise.
The second ethical principle to be considered was whether or not there was a lack of informed consent and whether this constituted an ethical problem. The posting of these comments in online spaces such as public Facebook pages and unprotected Twitter feeds displays a willingness of the poster for their comments to enter the public domain, despite the choice to remove their names from the dissertation, I believe their willingness for their comments to become public makes allowance for their usage in this study.
This justification also covers the third ethical principle; that of invasion of privacy. The fourth and final ethical principle I have assessed is whether deception has been utilised to gain access to the participants. Similarly to the second and third principles, my reasoning for believing an ethical principle has not been surmounted is that for my observation to work, i.e. observe the behaviour of far right groups without becoming involved myself, no interaction is needed on my part with the people I am observing and their actions are available for public viewership meaning no deception is involved.
The increase in support for Far-Right political groups in recent years has not yet gained a large amount of academic attention and this was an issue when finding relevant literature for this dissertation. The primary factors I therefore attempted to find within literature became firstly, the background of the Far-Right, specifically in Britain. Attempting to address this topic as a primary factor, author Matthew J Goodwin became a central figure in several books that have proved useful for my research. Firstly, a book Goodwin co-authored with Robert Ford named “Revolt on the Right” assesses in detail the rise to prominence of Far-Right UK party ‘Ukip’, who became a key case study in my research due to their increasing relevance in the UK political system, coupled with increased levels of support for the party from the public over recent years which culminated in Britain’s vote to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016. ‘Revolt on the Right’ by Ford and Goodwin suggests reasons upon which the choice to vote for or support a Far-Right party or group is based within a particularly notable few sections that intersperse the book that follow “John”, a 64 year old man from Nottingham who was a former Labour voter who became increasingly disenfranchised with mainstream party politics. He considered voting for the British National Party (BNP) but decided against it labelling their style of politics akin to that of the Nazis (Ford & Goodwin, 2014: p144). ‘John’ goes on, in a later section of the book to describe the European Union and immigration together as the “biggest threats to Britain since the Second World War” (Ford & Goodwin, 2014: p183) and this section in particular was in line with a developing theme I identified within my research wherein voters becoming disenfranchised with politics take on more extreme views. Similarly to the way in which Far-Right politics, views and activities have historically taken an upturn during times of economic stress, such as the “tenfold rise” in attacks on Polish people in the UK since 2004 which has been partly attributed to discontent caused by economic recession (McDevitt, 2014), the stress of political leadership by the mainstream likes of the Labour and Conservative parties causes a lack of faith on behalf of the public, leading significant proportions of voters to align themselves with often more polarised political groups and parties due to thinking they would be better represented. John’s experiences and recollections in Ford and Goodwin’s book exemplify how issue politics are such an important factor in Far-Right groups gathering support. ‘John’ lists among his concerns the economy going “…down the tubes. The pointless wars. Muslims blowing up London.” (Ford & Goodwin, 2014: p.144). These concerns show how, with groups and parties such as Ukip in John’s case, and the BNP, English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First offer an alternative by steeping their political campaigns in not just anti-Muslim content, but also generalised anti-immigration and often anti-establishment messages. ‘John’ and his story throughout “Revolt on the Right” perfectly showcase one of the key types of Far-Right voter; those disenfranchised from mainstream politics.
While being an important demographic in Far-Right support, the disenfranchised are not the sole makeup of these parties and groups. The historical background of the Far-Right’s origins was therefore also necessary to be addressed and a key text used for contextualising their history for this dissertation was “Bloody Nasty People” by Daniel Trilling which, among other things, led me to assess a case study involving the election campaign run by the BNP in UK constituency Barking and Dagenham in 2010. Trilling reports how canvassers for the BNP known as “George” and “Phil” were given shouts of support such as “You’re doing a good job, boys. Get rid of all those niggers.” (Trilling, 2013: p172) The sentiments on display in the Barking and Dagenham BNP campaign have been echoed by many other instances in 21st Century politics right up to the present day, with similar sentiments being shown from supporters of Donald Trump and the ‘Leave’/’Brexit’ campaigns alike. Trilling’s book’s coverage of the rise in popularity of the BNP is extremely telling because, although the BNP did indeed gain enough popularity to become a relevant political party, the types of views demonstrated by these groups and their supporters had not yet become mainstream enough to gain them any sort of actual political clout. 6-7 years on, however, overtly xenophobic views such as those displayed by Donald Trump and large portions of the campaign issues the ‘Leave’ side of Brexit focused on, have become not only exponentially more popular than their predecessors, but popular enough to win elections, referendums and high level political office.
Trilling’s explanation of the rumblings of support for the Far-Right in the 2000s therefore laid the foundation upon which to build my key research question; “How has social media led to a rise in right-wing extremism in the United Kingdom and United States?” Moving past 2010 and the popularity of groups such as the BNP, social media has been a rapidly expanding political force even simply by becoming the key source of news updates for a growing majority of people in several demographics as displayed by Jane Wakefield of the BBC who cites the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s research into this field that found 28% of 18-24 year olds listed social media as their primary source of news compared to 24% who listed television, and that the same research also claims 51% of people with access to the internet use social media as a news source (Wakefield, 2016). Following a similar trend in the United States of America, Paul Fletcher, contributor to Forbes Magazine, reports from a study by the Pew Research Center that 62% of American adults use social media as a news source, a statistic that shows a staggering rise from the 49% response to a similar question given by the same research team 4 years prior (Fletcher, 2016).
A 2017 paper by Hunt Alcott and Matthew Gentzkow is also a key piece of literature for this dissertation. The two academics have written a paper, in “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election” which lends itself perfectly to my assessment of the role of social media in modern politics and specifically how it was utilised and manipulated to benefit a candidate in Donald Trump whom was both heavily supported and influenced by the Far-Right. The specific case study of a collation of false news articles widely spread on social media in the run up to the election contextualises how the Alt-Right uses these forms of media and is therefore also a useful foundation upon which to build an argument based on the media-savvy young within the Alt-Right being a key driving force behind the movement.
In a more general but still applicable sense, Clay Shirky’s book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ perfectly contextualises, particularly in the chapter ‘Everyone is a Media Outlet’ (Shirky, 2008: p.55-80), how the Internet can be an extremely useful tool for political mobilisation. Shirky’s ideas that the “speed and ease” of the Internet makes provisions for “a group to be mobilised for the right kind of cause”. Much of Shirky’s viewpoint is steeped in optimism and there are of course examples of the internet being used to mobilise people in an extremely positive way, Shirky’s book itself begins with the story of Ivanna, woman who’s phone containing all the plans for her wedding was lost in a taxi and then stolen but recovered via online groups (Shirky, 2008: p.1-6). There was also the famous case of #FindMike around late 2013 and early 2014 in which Jonny Benjamin’s appeal to find and thank a man who prevented him from committing suicide went viral on Twitter under the hashtag “#FindMike”, eventually leading to the pair meeting after Neil Laybourn, the man who had been called ‘Mike’ during the campaign due to nobody knowing his name, was located (Brady and Williams, 2014). Mobilisation on social media can therefore of course be extremely beneficial, not just for individual cases such as these but also such things as the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, a protest campaign started in the wake of multiple killings of young black men by American police officers, in particular the Trayvon Martin case in which Martin’s killer; George Zimmerman, was acquitted and the protest known as “Black Lives Matter” was started, a protest campaign that has undoubtedly had an effect on the modern political system. Despite these examples suggesting social media as a source for good, it is a theme in this dissertation that social media’s impact on the political world has often been, and is continuing to be to this day, a resource into which groups with malevolent intent, including the Far-Right is tapping into.
Despite Shirky’s mostly positivist view of the way social media and the online sphere as a whole allows people to mobilise as a group, there are ways in which these methods can be used for nefarious purposes, and not just by the far-right in ‘Western’ states such as the U.K. and U.S.A., for example the so-called ‘Islamic State’, commonly known as ‘ISIS’ frequently utilise social media to spread their ideology and recruit or even headhunt followers with Hillary Mann Leverett reporting that “90,000 pro-ISIS messages were posted on social media” each day (Leverett, cited in Blaker, 2015: p.1), with an independent researcher even finding evidence to point to a much larger number, as many as 200,000 postings, could even have been closer to accurate (Greenberg cited in Blaker, 2015: p1).
This shows how social media can increase the reach, appeal and relevance of these types of groups, due to the increasingly acknowledged effect of social media’s receptiveness and ability to rapidly share personality politics, as well as news sources that support and directly align themselves with political groups as Breitbart and Fox News in the United States of America and the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun in the United Kingdom. It is social media’s effect on the far-right that will be analysed in more detail in this dissertation.
Social Media & The Tactics of the Far-Right
It is between the two nations of the United Kingdom and the United States of America that I draw comparisons in the importance and influence of social media on their politics. It is in the U.K. and U.S.A. where I find social media to be most relevant to an emerging Far-Right and it is on these nations I focus. The most comparable aspect of American Far-Right politics to that of the U.K.’s counterpart is the section that refers to itself as the ‘Alt-Right’ and operates heavily from comparatively grassroots levels and within the arena of social media and, while the links here are strong with the Far-Right groups in the U.K., part of my assessment will be questioning why these groups seem to have more success in the States, at least in terms of translation of numerical popularity to political success with a focus on Donald Trump’s campaign’s familiarity with members of Alt-Right groups, such as the appointment of Steve Bannon to the role of Chief Strategist, a former high ranking employee of Far-Right media outlet Breitbart News. The Far-Right in the U.K. has been much more forthcoming in recent history than in the U.S.A. in terms of publicity with groups such as the EDL, who commonly hold street marches and protests such as their actions in Dudley in 2015, protesting the planned building of a Mosque which turned violent and lead to 30 arrests (Lillington, 2015) and even as far back as the days of the National Front in the 1960s and 70s, performing street marches and protests such as the National Front’s infamous assault of two Labour party politicians in 1969 (Walker, 1977: p.88-89). The Alt-Right in the U.S.A however as explained by Matthew Lyons, researcher into Far-Right movements in the U.S.A. in an interview with Al Jazeera, the American Alt-Right has its platform deep in the online arena despite their “various efforts to broaden their scope and to develop more of a physical presence” (Strickland, 2017), something which has only recently begun to take a foothold in the few years. A reason for this I would suggest is the comparative size of the two countries. In the U.K. it can be reasonably considered achievable for members of a political group to meet for a protest from all corners of the country after the arrangements have been made via any given form of communication, social media or more conventional methods alike. With the geographic size of the U.K. being remarkably smaller than that of the States, travel to a rally, march or protest for people from most areas of the country is do-able via car or various forms of public transport. In the U.S.A however, should a group with members spread out across the enormous landmass of the country wish to hold a rally, the distance between members willing to attend may be an extremely limiting factor, with many of the 50 states covering a greater area than England and even in some cases the United Kingdom as a whole, with the U.K. as a whole being just 57% of the size of California, and an immense almost 3 times smaller than Texas (Traveler’s Digest, 2014).
The Emergence and Evolution of the British Far-Right
There have certainly been ups and downs in the state of race relations in the U.K. in recent years and, particularly in the last 5-10 years, social media has contributed in no small part to the mobilisation of some Far-Right groups and therefore the modern movement as a whole. In order to understand the current form of the Far-Right in the U.K. we must first ask; from where did they evolve?
Analysis of the origins and evolution of the British National Party (BNP) exemplifies how people have resorted to Far-Right politics and how this newly formed demographic then splintered into the types of Far-Right groups currently operating within, on the fringes of, and outside British politics. Within the British political establishment the current most relevant Far-Right party is The U.K. Independence Party (Ukip), a party whose policies could be described as those of a watered down BNP but with a focus on anti-EU ideals. On the fringes lie the likes of Britain First; a minor self-described party that mainly partakes in street marches and online activity, although did field a candidate in the 2016 London Mayoral election. Set apart from any form of political legitimacy are Far-Right, semi-organised street gangs like the English Defence League (EDL), a group that operates in similar ways to Britain First, but without the attempted pretence of describing themselves as a political party. The creation and subsequent membership of parties and groups such as these can reasonably be said to have grown from the remnants of the BNP as many of their activities, political tactics and propagandist methods remain prominent in the workings of these modern groups.
Therefore to analyse the evolution of the right in the U.K. it is beneficial to draw upon the work of Daniel Trilling whose book “Bloody Nasty People” looks in detail at the rise to relevance of the British National Party and with specific focus on the election campaign ran by the party in the constituency of Barking and Dagenham which was ran, by the BNP, on a basis of anti-immigration and racism which even lead to BNP councillor Bob Bailey being seen and filmed fighting with an Asian teenager in the street, knocking the youth to the ground and repeatedly kicking him (Kelly & Doyle, 2010). Trilling, as mentioned earlier in this piece, conducted a study in which he observed the activities of ‘George’ who spent part of his gap year canvassing on behalf of the BNP in the Barking and Dagenham election with campaign partner ‘Phil’. Trilling describes the exchange in which a BNP supporter shouts “Get rid of all those niggers!” encouragingly to the BNP canvassers (Trilling, 2012: p.172), a considerably stark example of the type of sentiments the party was aiming, whether they admitted this level of extremist racism or not, to incite among voters. The 2010 election was important for the BNP, but not in the way they had hoped. Nick Griffin, the Barking and Dagenham candidate and leader of the party lost in spectacular style and, as winning candidate, Labour’s Margaret Hodge, stated in her victory speech:
“On behalf of all the people in Britain we in Barking have not just beaten but we have smashed the attempt of extremist outsiders… The message of Barking to the BNP is clear, get out and stay out. You are not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy.” (Whitehead, 2010).
Since 2010 the BNP has declined severely in terms of membership, relevance, coverage and general popularity. This decline hit terminal velocity in January 2016 as the Electoral Commission stripped the group of its status as a political party making them unable to field candidates in both national and local elections (McCann & Swinford, 2016) and despite the party being re-registered a month later, it was clear the time of the BNP being the most relevant and controversial Far-Right British party was not only over, but had in fact long since passed with its dwindling membership defecting to other groups. The model of the BNP has continued to be mirrored in many ways by the more relevant modern groups such as the previously referenced Ukip, Britain First and EDL, the model is difficult to define as explained by Trilling:
“Fascism does not offer a fixed set of policies; rather it seeks to recruit followers and bind them around a pole of extreme nationalism by appealing to what [historian Robert. O] Paxton terms as ‘mobilising passions’: fear, betrayal, resentment, a mortal enemy within or without.” (Trilling, 2008, p.5) and in modern politics, a commonality held between a large majority of Far-Right groups, these factors as described by Paxton via Trilling are embodied in the so-called “mortal enemy” of the Far-Right today: the Muslim community. This comparison holds true when the Far-Right’s relationship with Islam is assessed, there is a significant fear of Islam within the Far-Right which goes so far as to lend itself to the name attributed to anti-Muslim prejudice; Islamophobia. There is definitely resentment embodied in this too, with the Muslim community being the collective victims of a considerable amount of the propagandist hate spread by these Far-Right groups.
The English Defence League became popular in the mid-to-late 2000s and continues to hold a footing in the public eye with their actions both online and in their physical appearances such as the aforementioned protest in Dudley. Tommy Robinson, who lead the EDL for a number of years and continues to be heavily associated with the group has come under scrutiny in the past also on the basis of the types of content he shared on his and his group’s social media, having shared worryingly anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim propaganda numerous times (Political Scrapbook, 2013). Being the most infamous and noteworthy leader of the EDL, Robinson’s use of social media is extremely indicative of the type of uses the Far-Right has employed with relation to social media and underlines the shared tactics of the EDL with the likes of Britain First, this usage of social media to spread propaganda is one of the most commonly shared traits of Far-Right groups in the U.K.
Tommy Robinson has since been associated with Britain First, having appeared at protests with leader Paul Golding and his deputy Jayda Fransen (York, 2017a), a sign that personalities among the Far-Right could be suggested to find various groups interchangeable, and can switch to whichever one is the most currently relevant in order to remain so themselves.
Propaganda is of course not a tactic exclusive to British politics and its usage in the 2016 United States Presidential election was plain for all to see. The U.S.A. has perfected the creation and utilisation of propaganda over the years from the Creel Committee’s dedication to swaying popular American opinion of their participation in World War I with such pieces as “What Our Enemy Really Is”, “Unmasking German Propaganda” and “Why We Are Fighting” (Creel cited in McFadden, 2012: p.17) to the propagandist tactics employed by modern presidential candidates.
Hashtag President: The Use of Slogans in the U.S. Far-Right
America has two key factors that both exist in the U.K. but are also much more extreme than their British counterparts, that contradict each other causing social conflict; multiculturalism and nationalism. With this in mind, this chapter will assess how social media affects politics on a national scale in the U.S.A. With focus on how the use of social media both by senior politicians, representatives and public figures from the top down and by individuals and grass-roots movements from the bottom up differ and remain akin to similar scenarios on the U.K.
We have seen for example, how the usage of social media in UK political action is largely grass-roots, with political activism occurring on social media from the bottom up considerably more often than from the top down. Grass roots groups such as the EDL and Britain First are more centred around social media using ‘figureheads’ such as Tommy Robinson and Paul Golding, personalities which, as this chapter will later discuss, America and its penchant for personality politics has also begun to see gain relevance, examples being the surge in popularity for people such as Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopolous and Tomi Lahren who use their impact on American social media to influence politics and gain support for the Far-Right.
The emergence of social media as a popular tool among politicians hit something of a crescendo in the 2016 United States presidential election when online communities including both individual people and news outlets prominent on social media. Presidential campaigns have historically involved slogans that would be intrinsically linked to the Presidential candidate they represented, or a jab at their opponent/s, from Grover Cleveland’s catchy, opponent-targeting “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.” in 1884, to Herbert Hoover’s more positive but equally memorable “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage.” promising security and prosperity for all Americans in 1928, through Jimmy Carter’s “Not Just Peanuts.” in 1976 to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” in 2016. Should presidential campaigns prove successful like these, or unsuccessful like so many others, it is undeniable that political slogans have been rife in the U.S.A for well over a century.
Political slogans have been a massive contributor to the tone of elections in the social media age though, in a substantially different way to how slogans in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Political slogans around a century ago could of course only be conveyed via much more limited forms of communication than they can be today, if at all. Newspapers for example would, at their most frequent be daily publications that may mention presidential slogans such as Cleveland’s slogan aimed at Blaine as mentioned above, that was chanted by Democrat representatives in Congress. Television news was also not yet the dernier cri, so the amount of times voters were exposed to a slogan pales in comparison to modern day iterations of Barack Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes We Can” in 2008, and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” both of which became so popular on social media they became fundamental aspects of the campaigns themselves showing how a candidate’s popularity or at least share-ability on social media has become, in modern politics, as important if not more so than their personalities and their policies.
Bente Kalsnes outlines how those at the top of the political chain such as “political parties and individual politicians can use social media to bypass media and communicate directly with voters through websites and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter” (Kalsnes, 2016: p.1) and American politics has recently evolved into an arena awash with direct lines between politicians and the electorate. Social media is the key line of this direct politician-to-voter contact because, while the actions and words of mainstream politicians are investigated, analysed and re-told by traditional media outlets according to the outlet’s interpretation of the meaning behind the actions or words of a politician, social media allows said politician to present their views to their voters, unadulterated and unedited with no possibility of added agenda that can come with other media outlets, depending on the direction and levels of their respective individual biases. Referring to the above example of Presidential campaign slogans, the slogans used by the likes of Grover Cleveland and Herbert Hoover were given to, reported on and redistributed by the press allowing for said press to contextualise the phrases in whichever way they interpreted it. Compare this to modern day politics however, and we see Donald Trump, ending ‘Tweets’ in the run up to his election with such slogans as “Make America Great Again” and “Drain The Swamp”, often stylised into the ‘hashtags’ #MakeAmericaGreatAgain” or #DrainTheSwamp. These slogans and their constant usage by both Trump himself and his supporters on social media meant they became as much policy promises as they were slogans for the campaign, “Make America Great Again” promising to restore what the supporters of the American right see as the glory days of the country through strong hawkish militarism and economic conservatism and “Drain The Swamp” a reference to Trump’s plans to get rid of and replace what was seen as the corrupt elite in Washington D.C. From this we can see how slogans used from the top-down of American politics can influence large numbers of people to joining together for a cause, hashtags and motifs within recent elections have often caused social movements that served to unify groups of voters under a single candidate. Dave Griffey summarises in a Patheos article;
“Trump unified Americans. Apart from his personal attacks and hard line against immigration, Trump seldom spoke to, or against, ‘demographics.’… But most of the time it was ‘Make American Great Again, Make America Great Again, Make American Great Again.’ It was bring back jobs for Americans. It was put America back on the map. It was make America strong. It was stop letting America be pushed around.” (Griffey, 2016) This idea exemplifies how the slogans and the entrenched messages they can hold, combined with the ‘share-ability’ of these types of slogans and hashtags in the era of social media dominance allowed for the right wing in America, both moderate and Far-Right, to become unified under Donald Trump. As such this lends itself with credence to theories in which various forms of social media and the usage thereof played a considerable role in the controversial President’s election.
The unification of people is arguably what social media is best at producing whether that is for better or for worse. Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ suggests ways in which social media can be used as a unifying force for good, with the example of ‘Ivanna’, her lost phone and wedding plans, and how the internet came together to reunite her with her possessions via emails, websites and MySpace, one of the earlier popular forms of social media (Shirky, 2008: p1-6). Some of the aspects of Shirky’s opening anecdote exemplify, as the subtitle of the book suggests, ‘how change happens when people come together’ but even within the story itself can be seen the darker side of social media, with people using the situation to attempt to extort money from the people searching for the phone by offering to sell it back, or otherwise using “taunts and threats” (p.4) to target the victim. It is this duality of social media, coupled with the fact that social media is merely a medium for people to exploit for their own advantage that will be my focus. How then, in the context of modern American politics, do these aspects of social media come into play? Parmy Olson, contributing to Forbes Magazine in the immediate aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, suggested;
“Technically, yes, Facebook connects people. Realistically, it has helped divide family, friends and acquaintances into increasingly concrete silos of opinion, stoked to irrational levels of fear and anger with fake news and conspiracy theories from sites like Breitbart.” (Olson, 2016). This assessment of the role of Facebook does outline the ways in which social media can stir political opinion and cause divides between individual people and this is a factor that can cause a larger opportunity for groups with more extreme views to gain a foothold in the corners of social media becoming dissatisfied and disenfranchised with mainstream, comparatively central politics.
Britain First: A Nefarious Face of Patriotism
Comparatively, a major beneficiary of political disenfranchisement in the United Kingdom is Britain First. I assess this group in such detail because, in my opinion, they are the extremely relevant in terms of their use of social media to further their ideas. Also, they are a Far-Right group that dips its proverbial toes into the majority of activities partaken in by the Far-Right as a whole and so embody as much of the demographic as possible. For example, Britain First field candidates in political campaigns such as the 2016 London Mayoral election in which Britain First leader and spokesperson Paul Golding stood. Alongside this air of political legitimacy, Britain First also covers the other side of the British Far-Right, the street movements that take part in marches, protests and, as commonly documented, the causing of social unrest and even violence.
Among these key reasons for a focus on Britain First lies the fact that many of the political tactics they employ are straight out of the playbook of many other facets of the Far-Right worldwide. Deception is a common and vitally important method of attracting support for Britain First and similar groups as explained by Matthew Collins of The Guardian;
“Its colourful memes had a habit of popping up all over the place – against dog fighting, against child molestation, loving British soldiers, enthralling people to click “like” if they were wearing a poppy this year, and so on. The main problem was, few people actually knew what this group was or who was behind it. Its rapid growth on social media gave the impression that there was some kind of massive street movement afoot in the United Kingdom and that every man and his dog had blindly climbed aboard.” (Collins, 2015). Collins described this type of outreach as “hoodwinking” for a reason, the type of things used by Britain First on social media, their use of the symbol of the Poppy for example, a commemorative recognition of soldiers lost in wars both historical and on-going, as well as issues and images which the vast majority of peoples’ values no matter how they align themselves politically would support. The sharing of these type of images by the group themselves and their supporters who know their agenda begin the trend of sharing which extends then to people who may not recognise the source either by not taking notice of which outlet originally shared the image or by not being aware of the groups’ actual existence. This allows for the hyperinflation of traffic interacting with these groups and their media output and makes the reach of the group, specifically their ability to attract, retain and utilise new supporters and members, a key factor in their numerical success.
Another and arguably the most important tactic of deception among the British Far-Right, certainly in terms of the popularity of Britain First, is the sharing and proliferation of false stories and news articles, often involving fallacies accusing the Muslim community of various conspiracies or illegal activities that are then disproven, such as the recent posting on spokesperson Paul Golding’s Twitter, ‘Tweets’ that have since been deleted but were documented by The Huffington Post, in which Golding accused Muslims in London of “celebrating the Paris terror attack” which occurred on Thursday April 20th 2017. The video Golding posted however was of fans of Pakistan’s national cricket team celebrating their victory in the 2009 Cricket World Cup (York, 2017b). It has been a continuous aspect of Britain First’s campaigning tactics and not one that has gone unnoticed. Chris York, the columnist for the Huffington Post, who covered the above article about Paul Golding’s social media lie targeting Muslims in April 2017, had been aware of their tactics for numerous years beforehand as exemplified by a quote from a 2014 article he wrote; “Britain First are still using fake stories to peddle their ‘message’.” This story, again targeting the Muslim community, was debunking claims from Britain First that they had travelled to Birmingham to protest the operations of a “Muslim-only cinema” despite the rumour having been disproved months beforehand (York, 2014). The usage of this type of fake news is, and has for a while been, one of the main ways in which the Far-Right attracts traffic to its social media outlets.
Fake news is not an uncommon tactic employed by both sides of politics but it is one that has seen influence an increase in the support for the Far-Right. It rose to a particular notoriety during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election when, among other instances of the fake news revelation gaining attention, Donald Trump would frequently accuse news outlets of actually being fake news, portraying himself as the victim of a barrage of fake news.
Fake News in the U.S.A.
‘Fake News’ was, in the run-up to the American election and continues to be, something of a buzzword on social media, having become a cornerstone of the politicisation of many online platforms in part due to its creation of, in the words of President Barack Obama “a dust cloud of nonsense” via “crazy conspiracy theorising” (Heath, 2016). The bandwagon of accusing mainstream media of creating fake news has been a key defence mechanism of the far right in America, including Donald Trump’s Presidential administration with scenarios emerging such as Trump taking to Twitter to accuse outlet CNN of being a “fake news” organisation due to cutting the microphone of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in an interview on their programme, although the reality, according to Allison Graves of PolitiFact, was that Sanders’ microphone feed was lost due to technical difficulties and the subject of the interview was not, as Trump suggesting, Sanders accusing CNN of broadcasting fake news, but was in fact Sanders mocking Trump for accusing CNN of the very same (Graves, 2017).
Although Trump consistently portrays his self and his allies as targets and victims, what is the real influence of the considerable amount of false news circulating on social media, who most frequently utilises it and who, most importantly, does it most frequently benefit?
In March 2017, Hunt Alcott and Matthew Gentzkow, of New York University and Stanford University respectively, compiled a study of fake news articles in relation to their popularity and potential influence on the U.S. Presidential election in 2016. Alcott and Gentzkow’s study provides many insights into the proliferation of fake news in the run up to the 2016 election and the first insight if theirs I shall focus on here is the trend they uncovered in which one Presidential candidate was found to have been favoured by, and therefore logically benefitted from, fake news with an agenda tilted in their favour. Alcott and Gentzkow’s collated database of fake news articles that they garnered from Snopes, PolitiFact and an independent list of 21 fake news articles most commonly circulated on the social media platform Facebook in the 3 months prior to the election. Within this database it was found that 41 of the fake news articles were in favour of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, whereas 115 of the articles were in favour of Donald Trump, with “pro-Trump fake stories being shared 30 million times, and pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times.” (Alcott & Gentzkow, 2017: p.3). A famous example of a pro-Trump fake news report was one that did the rounds on social media fairly often in the run up to the election, with ultimately false claims, as shown by Snopes.com’s report on the ‘news’, that Donald Trump had been officially endorsed by Pope Francis. As Snopes.com stated, there was “no truth to this story”, “no reputable news publications confirmed it” and that the publisher “WTOE 5 News is one of many fake news sites that masquerade as local television news outlets.” (Evon, 2016). The tendency as displayed here of fake news to disguise itself in such ways is indicative of how it becomes so popular and widespread, if the reader is unaware of the origins of the source of the news it can often be indistinguishable from real news.
In short, in the months immediately prior to the election Donald Trump was actually favoured by the majority of fake news articles on social media despite his self-portrayal as a target and a victim of false stories. It therefore stands to reason to suggest that Donald Trump’s campaign benefitted from the rise of fake news on social media with so much of it being tilted in his favour. Alcott and Gentzkow in their paper point out theorists and commentators such as Hannah Jane Parkinson of The Guardian newspaper; “Click and elect: How fake news helped Donald Trump win a real election” (Parkinson, 2016), Max Read of New York Magazine; “Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook” (Read, 2016) and Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post, who’s article even focused specifically on Paul Horner, a figurehead in the growth of fake news who feels responsible for Trump’s election; “I think Trump is in the White House because of me” (Dewey, 2016). Alcott and Gentzkow explain how these commentators among others suggest how, if not for the influence of the majority of fake news favouring his candidacy, Trump would have never actually succeeded in his Presidential bid, (Alcott & Gentzkow, 2017: p.2).
The rise to prominence of these type of fake news articles is symbolic also, in a way, of the transitioning relationship between the established media and the evolving social media news outlets, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages predominantly ran by the comparatively young, as evidenced by the previously mentioned Paul Horner, interviewed on his contribution to the election of Donald Trump by Caitlyn Dewey in the Washington Post, who was 38 at the time of interview having been in the business of fake news production for “several years” (Dewey, 2016) implying he began being a leading figure in the fake news industry from a fairly young age. So where does this growing demographic of young people come from? More importantly too, how and why have they got themselves involved in what is essentially becoming mainstream political propaganda impacting the political world as a whole?
The Kids Are Alt-Right: The Role of Young Digital Activists in Trump’s Rise to Power
“The new ultra-conservatism has unexpected idols. Its messiahs are not middle-aged and blustering, they are young, articulate and presentable, and they are intelligent. Some are women, gay, transgender and so far they are mostly American. They are commentators, not politicians. They are literate with new media and use Twitter and YouTube deftly. Accordingly, they are sceptical of the MSM, their sneering shorthand for the ‘mainstream media’. They are smug and convincing.” (Luckhurst, 2016).
The idols of new ultra-conservatives referenced by Luckhurst are the likes of Milo Yiannopolous, Richard Spencer and Tomi Lahren; young, presentable and, arguably more importantly, relatable. The ability of these and others like them to use social media as a platform to reach a much wider audience than they may otherwise be able to, gives them a unique opportunity to mobilise people of their own ages and generations who may not have otherwise been attracted to Far-Right politics. They use charisma and style in addition to traditional ultra-conservative views to make those views more appealing to young voters who may be likely to refrain from voting as suggested by the low turnouts among youth voters identified by the “Voting Rates Over Time” graph by the United States Census Bureau, presented by Thom File (File, 2014).
Although the youth turnout continues to be consistently lower than that of other age categories the support for the aforementioned personalities such as Spencer, Yiannopolous and Lahren on their respective social media profiles. Milo Yiannopolous, a former employee of Breitbart news with his c.2.1 million Facebook followers, Richard Spencer who has 56.3 Twitter followers and 24 year old Tomi Lahren who has around 695,000 Twitter followers and around 4.2 million on Facebook (figures correct at time of writing). With such huge numbers following these youthful and charismatic Far-Right personalities, it is not difficult to see how the Far-Right in America is being galvanised by this influx of media personalities and this demographic is contributing also, to the growth of Far-Right communities across American politics by joining forces with older, more established right wing powers to unify the right into the emerging so called “Alt-Right”.
Breitbart News is an organisation that embodies many of the key traits of the Alt-Right, with a mixture of old and young as exemplified by 63 year old Steve Bannon, the now Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump, and Milo Yiannopolous, the 32 year old social media personality, both of whom have had key roles in Breitbart’s organisation over recent years. Suzanne Moore of The Guardian has labelled Breitbart News the meme-makers of both white supremacy and virulent misogyny”. This is with reference to the Alt-Right’s popularization of ‘memes’, the colloquial phrase for repeated online jokes or messages often conveyed in subtitled image form, that support their agenda such as the previously referenced “Pepe The Frog”, a popular meme which was hijacked, for lack of a better word, by the Alt-Right and used to spread their messages so frequently that it has itself become a “kind of a symbol” of the Alt-Right, as explained by Richard Spencer in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company when the interviewer pointed out a small badge of Pepe the Frog’s face on his lapel and asked what it signified, the interview gained infamy because, while explaining the relevance of the image, Spencer was punched in the face by a protester (Murphy, 2017).
To summarise, the rise of the “Alt-Right” has been impacted to an incredible extent by the influence of its young pioneers, particularly those referenced here, and social media has been a pivotal factor in not only their initial gaining of popularity, but also their continued relevance in the world of politics and political commentary. Nothing underlines the importance of social media to these personalities quite so well as the recent developments in the feud between commentator Tomi Lahren and Glenn Beck’s ‘The Blaze’ media company that she had worked for until, she alleges in her lawsuit, she was fired from the company for expressing pro-choice views. Among Lahren’s major complaints against the company in her lawsuit is that she had been prevented from accessing her social media account, essentially cutting her off from her followers, nullifying her output and therefore her influence to such an extent that her lawsuit claims this prevention had caused Lahren “irreparable harm” and her lawyer, Brian Lauten has claimed both that the situation of being without access to her social media is connected to an inability for her to find another job; “she’s ready to pursue her career and reconnect with her millions of followers.”, and he also compares Lahren to “an eagle that feels like it’s had its wings clipped.” (L.A. Times, 2017).
To help summarise the impact of social media on political opinion and motivation, I will use an example not from the United Kingdom or United States of America, but from the Egyptian revolution occurring between 2010 and 2011; an incredibly relevant scenario in which social media was utilised to stir political opinion. As reported by David Faris in ‘Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age’, social media platforms played an immense role in the mobilisation of civilians in the Egyptian conflict, those Faris named “digital activists” or users of social media such as “Twitter, Facebook and YouTube… scored a number of important victories over the regime, over issues largely revolving around human rights.” (Faris, 2015: p.2). Faris later describes a key protest occurring on the 25th of January 2011 which was arranged as the day of protest by those Faris called “digital activists” (Faris, 2015: p.148) and it is suggested, despite admission that most evidence of online activism in the Egyptian revolution was ‘anecdotal’, throughout Faris’ work that much of the revolution that the revolutionaries in the online arena played pivotal roles in, involved some of the most important events of the revolution as a whole, further underlining the importance of social media in galvanising people politically.
To conclude, I theorise that social media is a primary factor in the modern mobilisation of the Far-Right. With modern society becoming more intrinsically linked with the online platform social media’s role in society as a whole in fact has grown, and continues to grow exponentially to the point that it is not an uncommonly held belief that there is a reliance upon social media to if not organise than at least play some intrinsic role in most social and indeed some other facets of life. Therefore it stands to reason that the political movements of the Far-Right benefit from using social media in the same ways as most other groups and even individuals who can also use the same outlets as a networking tool. The subtitle of Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ shows his aim was to present “how change happens when people come together” and, no matter if the cause be benevolent or malevolent, social media unifies people in such a way as we have seen throughout this piece that it allows change not just to occur, but occur at a rapidly accelerated rate.
This brings me to answer my final research question; “How has this affected race relations politically and in day to day life, as well as online?” having discussed how social media impacts people and politics throughout this piece. While race relations in both the U.S.A. and U.K. have rarely been completely smooth in recent history, the effect social media has had on that of both respective countries is remarkably similar. Social media’s ability to build social movements from the ground up has leant heavily to practitioners of Far-Right extremist views finding it easier to unify and galvanise themselves and the groups of which they are a part. The mid-to-late 20th Century was a time of strained race relations in both countries, with Enoch Powell’s leadership of the National Front in the 1970s and 80s, and their frequent marches such as in 1975, a march in London that claimed, “80% of muggers are black. 85% of victims are white” (Schofield, 2013: p.311). The U.S.A. has also felt the burden of poor race relations with riots occurring around issues concerning race multiple times, such as the 1992 riots in Los Angeles in response to the arrest and beating of Rodney King, a black man, by 4 police officers whom were eventually acquitted to name but one example of the institutional racism that was rife in the U.S.A. at the time. Social media has therefore arguably not provided any great hindrance to the state of race relations in these countries, which has been fluctuating between volatile and mostly stable consistently for a number of decades. Social media’s role however is significant, as it has rejuvenated the Far-Right as discussed in this piece, providing a course through which racism, xenophobia and general hatred can evolve, keep up with and restrain the progress toward equality, understanding and peace.
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