Interview #32: Media Opportunity Structures for Populism

In this interview, Nicole Ernst argues that while Twitter and Facebook are now essential elements of the political sphere, traditional media are not dead an it would be a mistake to overestimate the influence of social media.

On the other hand, social media are definitely a populist paradise (Facebook more than Twitter). Indeed, they allow politicians to create a connection with the people by sharing elements of their private lives, emotions, and feelings. Moreover, they provide a selective exposure that reinforces the populist beliefs of the public, and by criticizing the mainstream media as servants of the ruling elites they create a sense of community.  

Mainstream media give space to populist content generated on social media because populist messages are often controversial, emotion-evoking, dubious, and polarizing. Populist actors also tend to take extreme positions on hotly debated issues, while journalists pay attention to what populist politicians argue on other media channels – especially on social media – and incorporate those arguments into their newspaper articles. This means that populist politicians do not use social media solely to bypass traditional news media but above all to influence the news media agenda with their posts and tweets.

This interview completes a trilogy on the relationship between populism and the media. The first —with Dominique Wirz— on populism and emotions is here, while the second on populist citizens and their media diet —with Anne Schulz— is here.

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Interview #23: Populism and emotions

Populist actors use an emotional, dramatized and colloquial language, and for this reason their messages are more convincing. Or, at least, that is what many commentators have been arguing for quite some time. In her research, Dominique Wirz* found out that this is actually the case. In this interview she explains that populist messages are very likely to trigger emotions – negative emotions towards the bad people and positive emotions towards the good people. Moreover, since negative emotions are unpleasant, people feel a strong need for immediate solutions and this seems to makes populist appeals especially persuasive.

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