Global populism increased as a result of the social media revolution
The printing press was to nationalism what social media is to populism. The social media revolution has caused a surge in populism worldwide, fundamentally altering the public sphere, unlike print capitalism, which helped states emerge in Europe. The printing press made it possible for news and literature to be disseminated in local tongues, which allowed for the connection of previously estranged members of society. According to Benedict Anderson, the strength of this print capitalism encouraged an intellectual feeling of compatriotism among people of different linguistic backgrounds. The printing press brought diverse people together to form a single nation. Due to the press’s revitalization of their linguistic, racial, and historical bases for group loyalty, Europe saw the rise of national empires like the French, German, and British, among others. The majority were the primary forerunners of the nation and its sovereignty, particularly the educated middle class and the newly-born bourgeoisie. Nationalism spread worldwide due to colonization, the globalization of modernity, and the Westphalian state. People began defining themselves in terms of a single race, language, and linear history. The marginalized were “otherized.” The emphasis was on group purity and exclusivism. Despite their differences, all national projects worldwide are supported by the same reasoning.
Provided a new public forum
Global politics and communications have undergone a metamorphosis thanks to the social media explosion of the past ten years. It has sped up the dissemination of information (including false information) and provided a different public arena where people can voice their disapproval or favor of political events. There is no doubt that social media has proven to be a valuable venue for policy feedback, but there are also significant hazards associated with its manipulation and abuse. Popular discourse on social media is dominated by regressive political narratives of right-wing populist groups rather than serving as the voice of the oppressed. In the daily clamor of partisan blame games and media battles, the voice of the voiceless is drowned out. Trump, Modi, and IK used social media to create a public conversation that was different from the conventional media.
Social media contest the influence of conventional media
The power of traditional media has been challenged by social media, much like how the printing press undermined the Catholic Church’s authority. The dominant elite and mainstream media supported those in power and worked together to manufacture consent to perpetuate the status quo. Social media emphasized the return of power to the people by undermining the mainstream media’s monopoly on narrative and information. Social media took over as the source of “real” news, pushing out the traditional media. The gatekeeping function of conventional media has thus been disregarded. The end of church dominance gave the people and the nations more influence. In contrast, the breakdown of the media monopoly gave social media users—the new vox populi—control over the narrative. This way, social media aids populism by creating a counter-elite populist phenomenon.
Social media accelerated populism
The middle class is particularly vulnerable to economic and political instability crises that bring out the worst in people. However, the voice of the people and the significant unemployment among the middle class challenged the established quo. They were angry and excluded due to the shocks of collapsing economies and governments’ inability to provide for the people. As in the case of Brexit and the post-Obama USA, the middle classes’ worries manifest in losing chances or jobs to immigrants or people of color. They lost faith in the system, searching only for an alternative to the corrupt and deeply entrenched elite-oriented status quo. The narrative became an established order that could not incorporate them. When expressed through social media, these viewpoints became the prevailing public opinion and were honed on the whetstone of populist propaganda. For the middle class, the economic loss is not just material; it also includes a spiritual component. Loss of reputation and national pride is another consequence. They see themselves as the forerunners of the national ideological domain. They see a distortion of national life in the current setup that needs to be corrected by an actual national reconfiguration led by a determined hero.
Songs and Tiktok videos foster cult building and hero worship
A crisis has brought to light all of these middle-class aspirations and desires, which are the ideal ingredients for populism. Their optimism is rekindled when a populist ideologue who blames the political establishment for all the issues and expresses their hopes and worries arises under the guise of a failing political system. He makes claims and boasts about national sovereignty and salvation. In the messianic leader, the middle class finally sees its spiritual underbelly anthropomorphized. What he says is accurate, contrary to what others claim. He is revered as the great savior. As a result, the populist leader is portrayed in songs and Tiktok videos in a messianic way, encouraging the cult formation and hero worship.
Unfettered distribution of information
Social media platforms facilitate the speedy and unfiltered dissemination of such narratives in contrast to traditional media. Thanks to internet channels, the general public continues to be involved in all national development. Through photographs and videos, many lies, half-truths, and propaganda are circulated against adversaries. Moreover, many people now absorb information through digital media due to the declining trust in traditional media. As a result, disinformation and biased information are continuously supplied to the masses. In addition, social media gives populist leaders the freedom to appeal to the masses when traditional media might have been condemned.
Populism giving impetus to polarization
Populism thrives on polarization, which begins with radical and incommensurable narratives that digital media distributes. Everyone who opposes populism is branded as a supporter of the ineffective and corrupt status quo. People are made to seem evil because of their political views. There is a notion of us versus them, natives versus visitors, honest versus dishonest, etc. All those who disagree with the populist agenda are, in a nutshell, otherized. Digital media take over the national narrative, and the democratic consensus on the function of institutions is shattered. When they don’t correspond with public demands, the legitimacy of the media, courts, and legislature is questioned. In this sense, every institution’s authority is marginalized so long as it doesn’t advance the populist objective. Populism aims to seize control of the public narrative, and in the modern era, there is no better way to do this than with the help of digital media.
Last but not least, the renowned Barrington J. More thesis that “No middle class, no democracy” appears to be disproven when the expanding global middle class jumps on the anti-democratic populist wave that has shaken the democratic consensus in the public domain.