Event Date: 15 – 17 May 2019
Richmond University – The American University in London
Richmond TW10 6JP
A Century of Radical Right Extremism: New Approaches
Holger Marcks (Institute for Peace Research and Security Studies) – Digital Fascism. A Challenge for Academia and the Open Society
Web 2.0 and social media have evolved as central factors of political change: for good and for worse. While the internet was conceived of as a tool for broadening the freedom of expression in the 1990s, it has since turned into a terrain for the far right to undermine open societies. With the proliferation of interactive social media, the far right entered a new phase of organization, mobilization and manipulation, using the extended freedom of expression to spread their illiberal ideas. At the same time, organized groups are hardly able to control the flow of ideas and actions. New actors radicalize through online platforms without having contact to an organized scene, while mass mobilizations on the streets can be instigated by individual calls and expressions online. All this comes along with the notion that online discourses are particularly receivable for manipulation, as seen with fake news and automated bots.
The impression is given that the internet has created the emergence of a ‘digital fascism’ in which the masses are the engine of their own manipulation. This notion counters the literature on fascism. Yet, we argue that in a (post-)digital era we need a new perspective on fascism. We are proposing our contemporary approach by following three steps: First, we put the far-right surge in the context of a ‘post-digital’ and ‘post-organizational’ paradigm. Second, we identify structural elements of social media that function as catalyzers for this new tribalism bound together by sentiments of fear, menace and phantasies of extinction, thus blending in the interests and strategies of far-right actors. Third, we discuss how academia and open societies are facing a dilemma if they want to analyze and resist digital fascism: Its dynamic is based on structures that extend the freedom of expression – and to break it, restrictions seem to be necessary that tangle the core of liberal principles.