Digital Hackers

Digital Imagined Communities In The Digital Sphere Creating Digital Nazism

Blean Tsige

In the public sphere, the main control lies within the economic and political elites that influence the sphere through the use of language and media (Jackson 2018). In the digital sphere, this theory is recurring.

On the web, the power lies also in the economic and political elites that communicate a message on social network platforms (Lemper, M. & Silverstein, M 2012). This message in turn influences and creates structures in society, which is to establish the core beliefs of the individual. 

This means that there needs to be caution and limitations set for the influence of activism and their respective tools to influence society when they are using social media to spread their message. With the evolution of the Internet, specifically, of the new appearance of the digital sphere and its digital communities, there needs to be awareness raised towards the consequences that come with its gradually progressing expansion. 


Background Information

It is evident that far-right movements are prevailing on social media accounts and cause the reappearance of nationalism which is also termed ultranationalism (Wolff 2015). The phenomena were documented by the artist Tomas Rafa in his video series ‘New Nationalism’, in which he addresses the increasing influence of right-wing parties in Europe through the use of social media. 

During an interview in 2017 with the newspaper Deutsche Welle (DW), Rafa was questioned on how these extremist groups have attracted their vast amount of supporters in the past couple of years (Figure 1).

His answer staggeringly points out the same issues, that is the rapid development of the Internet purports the accelerated intrusive spread of these movements. To him, it seems that the freedom that the platform offers is peculiarly an issue since it is possible to spread false information or fake news without any repercussions. 


Figure 1. Rafas answer to the question.


In this case, language and symbols are the prevailing factors that are highly influential, that is digital communication is a hybrid activist toolkit (Jackson 2018). These can be found in real-life examples too, that is that indeed far-right wing parties are successful on social media platforms, specifically in comparison to other online activism.

The engagement experienced in online activism in comparison to the offline world is different because Internet technologies offer inclusivity by diminishing access barriers such as physical disabilities (Jackson 2018). For this reason, there is a new form of political ‘action’ that allows for a newly defined involvement which increases the number of memberships that grant anonymity and ceaseless geographically unbound variety of support. 

In the subsequent paragraphs, the involvement of far-right parties such as; AFD (Germany), Rassemblement National (France), Jobbik (Hungary) and Lega (Italy), is discussed. Their online appearance proves their immense influence on society and in turn, the individual's everyday life decisions. The main tactics used by the current online far-right parties show a historical parallel to fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the French right. 

This, furthermore, illustrates the establishment of the digital sphere and the fact that it does entail digital nazism controlled by the digital imagined communities that were fantasized by the creators of ArktosMedia.


Online Far-Right Movements: Showcasing The Realities Of The Fifth Political Theory

How can far-right movements have success online, that is the results in the increasing support offline? Are they beating their opposition by applying strategic use of language by manipulating the media, in this case, by taking advantage of social media-designed tools?

Bots, algorithms and automated agents play a vital role when analyzing the success rates of any aforementioned far-right movement that relies specifically on social networks.

Corroborated with the developments of the digital natives and the constant rapid strive for cheaper and better technological devices that are affordable, have in turn also given benefits to xenophobic content to spread more easily around the globe. 

As illustrated with the AfD, the German right-wing to far-right political party has 484K likes on Facebook (Figure 2). The party has 35000 official members and a 12.6% score in European Parliament elections and opinion polls. 

The same can be found with Rassemblement National, France's right-wing populist political party which has 456K likes on Facebook (Figure 2), but a decreasing 31000 members that are partaking outside the digital sphere. 

Another party is Legal per Salvini Premier, with 591K likes on Facebook (Figure 2) and a 17.4 % score in the European Parliament elections and opinion polls. The Hungarian party Jobbik also has 506K likes and places first in the European Parliament poll with a score of 19%.


Figure 2. Right-Wing Parties of Europe on Facebook (Likes)


The statistics found for the support of far-right movements in the public sphere, in other words, the offline world, in comparison to the increasing support in the digital sphere, shows that online support is clearer depicted in comparison to the offline numbers. It is unclear, however, why it is this way. This shows that there is a rise in nationalism all over Europe, particularly in the digital sphere. 

The rise of online activism is not new and also does not particularly have to be negative. The benefits of peer-to-peer communication were not only recognized by far-right movements but also activists understood this benefit (Jackson 2018).

For example, the Indymedia network was inspired by the Zapatista model that dealt with activism focused on replicating, reforming, or creating new strategies (Jackson 2018). The Indymedia network successfully organized and reported their activism which was later referred to as ‘the Battle of Seattle’ (Jackson 2018). It seems as if the digital sphere does allow for positive activism to impact its social platforms. 

This, however, put into practice and comparing, for example, the impact AfD is making with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, there is again a gap found in the interaction aka the impact it is making particularly in this example on Facebook.

The AfD not only has 484K likes on Facebook but also a total interaction of 886,130. In comparison, Die Grünen has 95000 official members, but 198K likes on FB  and 129,342 total interactions. The high interaction numbers can also be found with Ressembement National (FR),  Jobbik (Hungary) and the Italian Lega per Salvini premier party hitting even above a million total interactions. 


Figure 3. Right-wing party compared to a left-wing party (German politics)


High interactions produce benefits experienced on social media platforms through the system of the hierarchical algorithmic tools applied (van Dijck 2013). It is that the algorithm allows for the pages to be viewed more and receive the benefits of a guaranteed seat on the top of the news feed, for example on Facebook. 


Figure 4. European far-right parties total interaction numbers.


Suppose far-right movements are algorithmically benefited due to their high interaction scores. In that case, the problem lies within the content they post that has a specific stance point and entails a political message. For example, the post of the AfD that received the most attention, thus, the highest amount of interactions is about a Somali man who knife attacked and almost killed a firefighter in Germany (the post has been made private)

In the comment sections of the report (Figure 5), however, two opposing problems appear. First racial slurs come up, suggesting that the Somali man should be kicked out of Germany. Second, is the fact that one FB user claims that the story had not been cited properly and thus that the description above the post is not accurate. 


Figure 5. AfD comment section on Facebook.


Both comments expose problems in the digital sphere that in turn fuel the support system of far-right-wing activism. That is racism finds no halt since the social network platforms promote freedom but lack regulation.

Another issue is that posts such as this example of AfD is that they can not be properly cited but spread freely around the web, with no repercussions since the network promotes freedom, but lacks regulations. An issue that also Rafa found problematic in his interview with DW.

Most users of social network platforms, that are extremely active, are young people. If posts such as this roam around freely on these social media platforms that young people are highly engaged with, does that not cause immense problems for the future? 

In the Fifth Political theory, it is observed, that the digital sphere includes digital imagined communities, that ArktosMedia has put effort into creating and includes the promotion of digital nazism. 


The Digitized Version Of The Predicted Spectacle by Habermas In The Digital Sphere Potentially Clarifies The Success Of Online Right-Wing Activism  

The general success of social media is explained through the application of a mix of excessive entertainment, shock value content and clickbait culture. This proves to catch the attention of almost all users on the platform. 

As Habermas had predicted in his writing in the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962) the function of media is to reconstruct and limit public discourse to topics only validated by corporations that control the media. He found that the spectacle was the vital focal point of media and that this distracted public debate and concerns of the individual. 

The forms of the spectacle embodied in the public sphere as described by Habermas can be rediscovered within the new digital sphere. The spectacle takes centre stage by adopting methods so that the content posted online is embedded with entertainment, shock value and clickbait strategies. This causes the distraction of what actually matters as in the opinion of Habermas.

Right-wing movements that promote the dogmas of the true European new right are depicting these characteristics online and this might, therefore, explain their vast amount of success in the digital sphere. 


Figure 6. Mebrahtu, the AfD supporter, success online


For instance, the Eritrean AfD supporter Homib Mebrahtu takes particular advantage of clickbait strategies by creating shock value content that is entertaining enough to catch more views than the average AfD supporter video.

He is aware that due to the fact that he is of African descent, and does not reflect the typical German AfD supporter, his content seems to be more successful than others. This is important to him since through these methods he is able to get his message across, which is filled with his xenophobic opinion that strives for nationalistic ideals



It is clear that this is a tactic since the same applied technique can be found in different parts of the world. Another example is the group Black Voices for Trump, which is a small amount with only 8% of black voters, but the point is that this topic has been vastly discussed within the USA due to the shock-value and clickbait-like strategies applied here. 



This nevertheless is not the final or ultimate answer to what the exact success- formula applied by far-right-wing/populist parties is. The matter is far more complex than that if take into account that bots, algorithms and automated agents play a role in this too. 

In the previous example, the focus was on the benefits experienced by movements online correlating to the total interactions they have received. This is mainly controlled by algorithms that allow for their posts to prevail above others. Another issue recently discovered is that there are "images generated using artificial intelligence, specifically by a machine learning method known as a GAN".

This came to light after Facebook accounts used profile pictures that showed real-looking people "smiling and looking directly into a camera" according to the CNN report, but the accounts were all fake and used by a network that promoted President Trump (CNN, 2019). The fake Facebook accounts were used to spread pro-Trump information and propaganda against the Chinese government.


Figure 7. Facebook is involved in another problem


Consequently, the fake accounts boost essentially the support system of Trump. It is more likely that a person will believe and support a movement if it's posted by an innocent or specifically a normal-typical-looking person. This is also referred to as algorithmic activism.

Until now this problem can only be found within US politics but there are similarities between pro-Trump rallies and the populists-focused European parties. This led to the recent support offered by Steve Bannon the former White House chief strategist.

In the past years, he has been travelling around Europe to prove his keen admiration for the European new right. An article in The Atlantic (2019), states that "his quest to create a movement aimed at supporting nationalist, anti-establishment parties". Although his exact goal never saw the day of light, the increasing success of the true European right in politics does exist. 

If Americans who are pro-Trump apply tactics to increase their support by using bots, algorithms and now also GAN, how can it be assured that the European new right does not do the same even though there is an increasing association between the two movements? 


Figure 8. The Digital Sphere Spectacle



Conclusion: The Debate On the Public Sphere Spectacle 

Habermas fears, that the spectacle in media would dominate the public sphere has come to light in the digital sphere. The rise of the European new right by influencing social media networks in manipulating the increase to create a digitally imagined community is the real spectacle. It is distracting public opinion and the individual by letting the digital sphere dictate its focus on digital nazism. This topic, in turn, benefits only a small group of people.



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