A deeply mediatised extreme right
On 15 March 2019, around 1:40 pm local time, a right-wing extremist embarked on a ‘mission “against the invaders”’ in Christchurch, New Zealand (Macklin 2019a, 18). In a little over half an hour, he entered two mosques and killed 51 people. What was unprecedented about this attack was the fundamental part played by digital technologies. This criminal announced his attack on the/pol/board on 8chan, an image board in the web’s social outskirts on which extreme-right information circulates freely (Davey and Ebner 2019). He posted on numerous file-sharing web sites a manifesto titled ‘The Great Replacement’, and he broadcast the atrocity on Facebook Live, using a GoPro sports camera. By orchestrating his livestream as in a first-person shooter game, the attacker showed he understood the logic of the digital information ecosystem and how to use it to make sure his message would be heard. And heard it was. The video was shared a few million times on multiple social media platforms. It was celebrated with memes on 8chan, and it fuelled anti-Muslim hatred online (Macklin 2019a). But, what the Christchurch shooting mainly caused was a ‘chain reaction’ of near-identical right-wing extremist attacks against ethnic and cultural communities perceived as invaders or occupiers, such as in Halle (DE) and in El Paso (US) (Koehler 2019; Macklin 2019b). As a result, the Christchurch shooting ushered in a new era for the extreme right: one in which actions are increasingly shaped by digital media and their logic. This chapter therefore states that the extreme right has become deeply mediatised (see Hepp 2020). Deep médiatisation has been defined as ‘an advanced stage of [médiatisation] in which all elements of our social world are intricately related to digital media and their underlying infrastructures’ (Hepp 2020, 5). Indeed, the Christchurch scenario would never have been possible without digital technologies. In the next two sections, this notion is explored further by looking at two ‘triggers’ for the deep médiatisation of the extreme right: (1) the broader context of globalisation and immigration and (2) information disorders and the information ecosystem.
Broader context of globalisation, immigration, and trust in institutions
In order to understand how the current era of deeply mediatised right-wing extremism came into being, it is necessary to discuss the broader context first. Although it is impossible to conclusively point to specific antecedents and consequences, a series of circumstances (e.g. globalisation, the migration crisis, anti-Muslim sentiment) have been immensely influential. In our current societies, globalisation has triggered a shift from a ‘solid’ society based on control and concrete points of reference to a ‘liquid’ society whose key traits are perpetual change, insecurity, and hopelessness about the future (Bauman 1998). The change in intercommunity relations due to immigration has been associated with an increase in intergroup conflict due to discrimination against diverse minorities and the upsurge of different forms of radicalisation and (political, religious, and xenophobic) extremism across the world. Phenomena such as ideological polarisation, radicalisation, violent extremism, ethno-nationalism, and anti-Muslim sentiment are a ‘minefield’and a threat to basic human rights, fundamental freedoms, and intergroup relations and tolerance (Sedgwick 2010). More concretely, in many countries, globalisation and immigration are exerting tremendous pressure on social cohesion (shared public values, communal and group values, guiding principles, and normative values). As a consequence, an increasingly recurring and prominent narrative — especially within extreme-right circles — is that of ‘white genocide’. The idea behind this is ‘that white populations are being replaced through immigration, integration, abortion and violence against white people’ (Davey and Ebner 2019, 6). The ‘white genocide’ ideology was a driving factor behind the Christchurch attack, for example. Because this narrative is becoming more and more visible in society, it led to a divided public opinion that tends to be more overtly hostile towards migration (European Commission 2015).
This fragmentation in public opinion has been increased by a series of recent political developments and a worldwide decline of trust in democratic institutions such as the news media.
Indeed, in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, the Brexit vote, and the European migration crisis, political and societal polarisation (i.e. a vast and growing gap between political ideologies and public opinion) have increased rapidly (Newton 2019). And each side of the polarised spectrum holds the same idea as truth: ‘we are right, they are wrong, no matter what’ (Pattyn 2014, 231). Together with the sudden rise of populist leaders and discourses across Europe, this has resulted in todays ‘disaffected democracies’ being trapped in an epistemic crisis in which citizens are increasingly unable to tell truths from falsehoods (Benkler, Faris and Roberts 2018). For instance, populist leaders all over the world — most notably President Trump — now routinely use the term ‘fake news’ to describe news that is critical of them or embarrassing. It is no surprise that such dominant discourses have gradually affected people’s relation to news media in a negative way. In the last decade, scientific studies and polls have consistently pointed to a decline of citizens’ trust in the conventional news media (Newman et al. 2019).
Audiences increasingly tend to rely on self-selection of online and social media sources (‘my media ) that they choose to trust for news, background, and information. This has raised concerns as people may get isolated intellectually if they are no longer seeking additional sources that convey diverse news (Newton 2019). In this regard, both mediated and interpersonal types of communication have been blamed for facilitating political and societal polarisation, which paved the way for right-wing extremism (Yadlin-Segal and Ramasubramanian 2017). Social media platforms also include contentious content such as extreme-right-inspired hate speech, offensive comments, misinformation and disinformation, blurred lines between fact and fiction, and propaganda — all of which result in a polarised society and in division between communities, some of which become ostracised. This brings us to the second issue related to this deeply mediatised extreme right, one which pertains to information disorders and the information ecosystem.