The last decade has witnessed something of a sea-change in the perception of internet media and publishing by journalists and politicians across the world, from being the slightly suspect poor relations of the print media to its senior partners, with content creators finding it necessary to follow the preferences of consumers. The era of innovative and slightly unruly online reporting and commentary, when many newspapers left their branded websites to their own devices, is long gone as publishers gradually abandon the hardcopy market for the softcopy one (arguably, some media companies are subsidising loss-making print editions solely because of the journalistic “legitimacy” it provides). This has led to some interesting cultural clashes between old and new media, with the former determined to claim the space occupied by the latter. It has also raised questions of authority or authenticity between competing online publications.
Politico, the globally-ambitious American politics website, has just published the first in a series of three articles examining the alleged and not so alleged use of the internet to spread propaganda and misinformation by right-wing nationalists in the United Kingdom. It’s an interesting piece, touching upon attempts by the UK authorities to counter far-right extremism, though it is let down by a lack of context. After all, the advocacy of Brexit, a form of xenophobic-tinged populism, is now part and parcel of the political and media landscape in Britain, from the governing Conservative Party to elements of the opposition Labour Party, from the establishment Daily Telegraph newspaper to the tabloid Express. Indeed, the latter has become notorious for its slanted and prejudicial reporting, occasionally skirting with explicit hate-speech directed towards targets it views as insufficiently “patriotic” or simply “foreign” and therefore suspect. Yet it is regarded as a significant representative of the established press in London.
Labelling some fringe publications as concerning while glossing over the nationalist rhetoric emerging from their mainstream counterparts, and especially those employed by them, is highly questionable. The last point is of particular note since Irish readers will be very familiar with the wave of hibernophobic declarations and opinions being offered on Twitter and Facebook by British journalists over the last two years. These are not minor or relatively unknown bloggers or online commentators but well-known newspaper, radio and television editors and presenters, columnists and correspondents, who actually shape and deliver the news in Britain. And a startling number of these individuals believe that publishing chauvinistic posts or dog-whistle tweets is a key to gaining influence and career advancement.
While Politico may talk of Britain purposefully grappling with a supposedly fringe “nationalist dark web”, in the context of Brexit the ideological darkness spread from the centre outwards, not the other way around.