Event Date: 15 – 17 May 2019
Richmond University – The American University in London
Richmond TW10 6JP
A Century of Radical Right Extremism: New Approaches
Dr Julia Rone (Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society) – Why talking about ‘fake news’ misses the point? The sources, topics, and news-sharing patterns of radical right media in Europe
The current paper argues against the concept of “fake news” which is too broad and easy to instrumentalise politically when applied inaccurately and too narrow and excluding the most interesting cases of political propaganda when applied accurately. Instead, we focus explicitly on the political profile of media and perform an in-depth empirical analysis of the sources, topics, and news-sharing patterns of radical right news websites in Europe. We focus on ten radical right media: the transnational Voice of Europe, Epoch Times, Jouwatch, Politically Incorrect News in Germany, Il Primato Nazionale, Secolo d’Italia and VoxNews in Italy, Westmonster, Order-Order and PoliticalUK in the UK.
Little empirical evidence is found to support the mainstream liberal narrative of “fake news” often associated with these media. On the contrary, national news agencies and local media feature as prominent news sources. In addition, as radical right media share each other’s news to produce a greater output of content (despite budget constraints), they become news sources for each other. Ultimately, it is not so much the sharing of “fake” (false) news that defines radical right media online, but rather the fact that 1) they often focus on a narrow set of topics (such as immigration and crime) 2) they frame these topics in strongly biased ways; 3) they share each other’s content extensively, especially on social media. Thus, classical media theories on agenda setting and framing are much more helpful in understanding current transformations in digital media than the techno-deterministic dystopias of “fake news” spread by trolls and bots.
All things considered, critical digital media research should take into account the ultimately ideological nature of the discourse on “fake news” and move beyond it to reveal the empirical reality that it has obscured so far. The algorithmic changes that have been applied by social media giants to tackle “fake news” have not, cannot and, from a free speech perspective, should not address the raising popularity of radical right media (whose content is manifestly biased rather than “fake”). It is only by knowing what types of radical right news are shared, where they come from and where they diffuse that we can start thinking of alternatives. Because it is precisely political alternatives and not technological solutions to “fake news” that we need.