FEATURED: Reactionary Digital Politics Episodes Three and Four

By Rob Gallagher

Episode three of the Reactionary Digital Politics podcast asks ‘How do argue and persuade?’, exploring how right-wing groups communicate online, and how we should respond.

In some ways, the tactics these groups use are all too familiar: as we hear, fascists have always used linguistic tricks to slander their opponents and stir up hatred against scapegoats. And right-wing strongmen have long favoured transgressive rhetoric as a way to drown out more nuanced discussions, positioning themselves as brave truth-tellers who are willing kill a few sacred cows to get the job done.

But digital platforms don’t just provide new vehicles for the same old arguments, tactics and terms. We examine the work done by phrases like ‘social justice warrior’ and metaphors like ‘taking the red pill’; we talk to digital culture researchers who’ve explored how online mobs use ironic memes as camouflage for real bigotry; and we look at how veteran denizens of the internet have theorised online communication through concepts like ‘Poe’s Law’ – an maxim that reminds us that it’s often hard to tell who’s being serious and who’s joking or trolling online.

We also examine how ‘ideological entrepreneurs’ and ‘alternative influencers’ have capitalised on this confusion. In a disorienting world, these figures win fans by promising to make sense of it all – or at least to make their followers feel better. Episode 4, ‘How Does It Feel?’, argues that this appeal to the emotions is one of the key features of contemporary right-wing rhetoric, which can often sound more like therapy speak or self-help advice than traditional political speeches.

That’s certainly not to say we need to keep emotion out of politics. In fact, while some critics argue that political debate should be coolly rational, we show that it’s never been that simple to separate facts from feelings. We also learn how social media platforms are engineered to stir up and capitalise on visceral emotions, and how this creates an environment where content that’s funny, shocking or infuriating rises to the top – whether that’s outrageous jokes, alarming conspiracies or urban myths that pander to a misplaced sense of white victimhood…

Image: Rob Gallagher