Research Program on Digital Populism

The main goal of the Research Program on Digital Populism is to help policymakers and opinion leaders understand and put in context the contemporary emergence of populism, specifically how it intersects with and is spread through the digital realm. Populism is not a recent phenomenon; however, the new populists diligently control digital technologies to sow distrust in representative institutions, undermine political participation, and spread sectarianism and social polarization. The new generation of populists is using the internet and social media to form an alternate reality and to spread disinformation through conspiracy theories.

Digital populism is a new form of political behaviour marked by the political use of the internet as both a form of political participation and an instrument of mobilization. The rising popularity of populist parties has, in many countries, gone hand-in-hand with the advent of social media. Populist parties and politicians are adept at using new technology to amplify their messages and to recruit and organize. By utilizing the often-unregulated spaces of social media and other new technologies, populists can recruit and mobilize like-minded individuals with relative ease, further intensifying social antagonism.

Digital populism gives politicians an inexpensive opportunity to build a direct relationship with the people. It combines the manipulation of fear used in right-wing populist strategies with the hidden manipulation of private data, making it far more sinister. As the number of users has increased, populist politicians have started taking advantage of the context-less space of social media to spread false news and accusations. Social media allows populist politicians to claim they’re unsophisticated representatives of the general public fighting against the elite politicians of a powerful oligarchy.

Online platforms and populism are an ideal combination, since populists seek a direct link to the people. Social media represents an immense opportunity for populist politicians to reach a wide swath of the public with unprecedented speed and scope. In light of these developments and in line with the general vision and mission of ECPS, the Research Program on Digital Populism will study and discuss the following issues: