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Retweeting Trump, AfD and Wilders: Helping the bad guys?

The swift rise of populist political parties and candidates, mostly from the far-right, owes much to extremely provocative social media campaigns, also dubbed “extreme tweeting”.

This is mainly because social media reward starkness rather than subtlety. Besides making noise on Twitter and Facebook, they manage to strengthen their support base by reaffirming it about its political inclinations.

Role model Trump

Trump’s campaign has shown that it has perfected the “dominating the news cycle”-approach: Outrageous tweets, shared on social media and repeated by traditional media a million times, spread his message wide and far.

Minutes after news of Monday’s savage attack on a Berlin christmas market broke, one leader of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Germany’s far-right populist party, tweeted “They are Merkel’s dead”, gaining him more than 400 new Twitter followers. Geert Wilders of Holland later joined the party with an utterly graphic image. Others have indirectly called for the death of politicians demanding a sober response to recent attacks.

Quickly, the “statements” were retweeted a thousandfold, many accompanied by derogative comments (I’m guilty as well).

Have we fallen into the populists’ trap by repeating their hideous comments?

Yes and no. It is definitely true that using their language will only inflate their reach. However, if we reframe their statements we might be able to expose the ugly truth behind their deliberate provocations to the multitude of voters inclined to opt for extreme options without being “ideologically convinced”.

Research on whether tweets and Facebook posts can change voters’ minds is inconclusive, but its positive impact on voter turnout is undeniable. Thus, simply ignoring the bad guys’ messages won’t work either. Rather, without repeating their charges, we should to try to steer the conversation based on our own values and using our own language. And let’s not shy away from answering the populists’ emotionally charged accounts with positive emotions.

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