Nicoleta Corbu, Elena Negrea-Busuioc, Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions in:

Benjamin Krämer, Christina Holtz-Bacha (Ed.)

Perspectives on Populism and the Media, page 181 - 200

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Series: International Studies on Populism, vol. 7

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Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc Two major political events of 2016 (Brexit and the US elections) have profoundly changed both the political establishment and the global media landscape. Brexit, especially the Leave campaign, and, to an even greater extent, Trump’s surprising victory, have ever since fueled numerous debates over the role social media had in spreading the populist rhetoric. Apparently, “the year 2016 is indeed the year of the populist, and Donald Trump is its apotheosis” (Oliver & Rahn, 2016, p. 190). Not only has research shown that social media were instrumental in securing Trump’s election (Benkler et al., 2017; Groshek & Koc-Michalska, 2017; Oliver & Rahn, 2016), but Trump himself acknowledged that social media “helped him win” (McCormick, 2016). Thus, Trump undermined the efforts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to downplay the role this social media platform played in the 2016 US elections and admitted that Twitter and Facebook are “great forms of communication […] that get the word out” (McCormick, 2016). Furthermore, intensive social media campaigning has revitalized scholarly debate over politically oriented misinformation in and by the media. Social media are an ideal medium for populist politicians to expose their views and reach out. However, the combination between populist discourse and fake news, to use the less accurate, but more popular term, seems to be dynamite. A recent study (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2018) has shown that online fake news consumption scored high among Trump supporters and that the fake news they were exposed to was overwhelmingly pro-Trump. The source of some misinformation may have been the President himself, since he “can generate more political nonsense in an hour than most of his rivals can produce in a year. Trump’s versatility in generating half-truth, untruth and outright spectacular mendacity borders on genius” (Ball, 2017, p. 10). This chapter attempts to shed light on the relationship between two phenomena on the rise in today’s society: populism and fake news. We delineate the superposition between the two concepts, focusing on media populism and online disinformation, as proxies which foster interconnected ef- 181 fects in the online political environment. Even though the scope of both populism and fake news is broader, we believe that focusing on their (often combined or similar) effects in the political context allows us to further discuss the social (often) negative implications of these two phenomena. To this end, we discuss the intricacies between media populism and online disinformation following three types of arguments. First, we examine the dramatic changes in the media environment that helped spread both populist arguments and various types of disinformation to an unprecedented degree. Second, we argue that both concepts feed into one common ground: the Manichean distinction between “us” and “them,” which is the inner core of populism and at the same time the context in which people appropriate news that is counterfeit to various extent; when content confirms people’s opinions, attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices about a subject, people make the subject matter their own, and it becomes “true” (Bârgăoanu, 2019). Third, both phenomena find fertile ground in social media and tabloid media and are subject to viralization and persuasion effects due to the high level of emotionality they elicit online. There are theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that populist actors are prone to using misinformation and that they often become victims of argumentative fallacies (Bergmann, 2018; Blassnig et al., 2019); for this reason, some scholars recommend that “corrections of populist-originated misinformation and disinformation then should be done in a matter-offact way, ideally provide substantial explanations, and use sources that are close to populist positions ideologically” (de Vreese et al., 2019, p. 244). However, it is not our intention here to discuss mis- and disinformation in the populist discourse, but rather to point out the intersections of the two phenomena about which there is general consensus among researchers and journalists regarding the negative social effects and detrimental implication for democracy (Stanyer et al., 2019; de Vreese et al., 2019). It is beyond the scope of this chapter to shed light on the production of fake news as a social media-related phenomenon; however, we are aware of the need to investigate and address the roots of the false content online. We believe this dimension to be the most challenging part of the “fake news” equation. However, in this chapter, we aim to explain the mechanisms that feed into the success of populism arguments and fake news, as we believe they share some interesting similarities which may allow a comparable approach in the future. Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 182 The Spread of Populism and False Information in the New Media Landscape It is beyond the purpose of this chapter to delve into the vivid debate about what populism is; however, we should delimit the boundaries within which we place our discussion. Populism has been defined as either a thin-centered ideology (Mudde, 2004), political style and rhetoric (Cranmer, 2011; Jagers & Walgrave, 2007, Moffitt, 2016), a strategy (Barr, 2009), a frame (Aslanidis, 2016; Caiani & della Porta, 2011), or a zeitgeist (Mudde, 2004). In this paper, we focus on a different dimension of populism, namely populism in the media, which has been previously theorized (Esser et al., 2017; Krӓmer, 2014; Mazzoleni, 2008, 2014) or empirically analyzed (Akkerman, 2011; Bos, van der Brug & de Vreese, 2011; Engesser et al., 2016; Rooduijn, de Lange & Hawkins, 2010; Maurer et al., 2019). All dimensions of populism are connected by the Manichean distinction between the good “us” and the evil “them,” the people versus various outgroups (Jagers & Walgrave, 2007). The concept of media populism has been discussed in various terms; researchers often distinguish between populism by the media and populism for (sometimes referred to as through) the media. The former refers to populism propagated by journalists and media organizations (Esser et al., 2017) and largely overlaps with the concept of media populism (Krämer, 2014). The latter taps into the media’s tendency or capacity to become a platform that gives a voice to populists, often distributing and amplifying populist messages of political actors (Blassnig et al., 2019, p. 73). Media’s declining commitment to facticity, accuracy, and objectivity and the increasing shift toward sensationalism, immediacy, and emotionality (Bakir & McStay, 2018) are essential features of the current (new) media ecology, which favors not only the spread of populist discourse but also the proliferation and intensification of false content. This is much more visible in social media, which has become embedded with (sometimes malicious) mechanisms of quick dissemination and amplification of attractive content, such as populist messages and counterfactual information. Moreover, in the online space, “the boundaries between senders and receivers are blurring” (Hameleers, 2018, p. 2178), which fosters a never-ending process of going back and forth with populist arguments, either agreeing or disagreeing with an initial populist statement. At the same time, the social media environment might enhance the thin nature of populism in the sense of fragmentizing its elements across posts (Engesser et al., 2017) and platforms. Thus, various “pieces” of populism (i.e., key elements, such as popular sovereignty, pure people, corrupt elite, and dangerous others) form a giant puzzle that could be even further developed by artificial 1. Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 183 means, such as bots and cyborgs (human users who employ software to automate and amplify their social posts, according to Kramer, 2017), which are, arguably, very effective means to spread information in the online environment. The rapid transformations of modern communication technologies make it easier for people to share a common social media bubble with people holding similar attitudes, which, over time, leads to the consolidation of online communities in which a certain ideological content is echoed, a phenomenon known as the echo chamber effect (Garret, 2009). Fragmentation and polarization are consequences of social media’s inner logic that allows “like-minded” (Klinger & Svensson, 2015) people to connect and share their similar worldviews. Such like-minded people are often motivated by the emotional content of their echo chamber to uncritically accept and reaffirm what is presented to them. The uncritical absorption of content circulating in the social media bubble increases the risk of feeding people with false information that is difficult to correct or dismiss. In addition to increasing polarization (Törnberg, 2018), echo chambers favor selective exposure to misinformation, where large amounts of fake news are consumed by relatively few people (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2018). As Lazer et al. (2017) remark, once embedded in the echo chambers, fake news can be used to amplify prejudice, to assign blame, to inflate emotions, and, quite frequently, to “harden the us-versus-them mentalities” (p. 5). Fake news and any other types of mis- or disinformation are information disorders that pollute the information ecosystem (Wardle & Derakhshan, 2017). The 2016 US elections brought the term “fake news” into the spotlight, thus sparking a growing scholarly interest in the dissemination of false information in social media. Fake news stories had widely circulated during the 2016 US elections (Silverman, 2016), and many people reported in post-election surveys that they believed the information promoted on fake news sites to be true (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Some studies showed that fake news website production and consumption during the US presidential elections were overwhelmingly pro-Trump and that social media platforms were instrumental in directing people to fake news websites (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2018, pp. 10-11). These findings are consistent with other research suggesting that social media helped cultivate, directly or indirectly, public support for populists in the US elections (Groshek & Koc-Michalska, 2017) and with the more general claim that social media give populists a platform to articulate and disseminate their ideology (Engesser et al., 2016). Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 184 There are many shapes that false information can take (see Wardle, 2017, and Tandoc et al., 2018 for fake news typologies); however, it seems that online circulation and reception is crucial to fake news (Bounegru et al., 2017). In this chapter, we mainly refer to politically biased fake news (manipulated content in Tandoc’s typology) and to politically counterfeit information (fabricated content), as we believe that these types of information are most prone to negative social effects, while being both accepted and spread easily in the news media environment. The connection between populism and fake news does not reside solely in their similarities; even though they share some common traits, mostly they intersect in some of their avatars in the political environment. In other words, some “species” of both media populism and fake news feed into the same kinds of arguments, and sometimes largely overlap. We will further discuss various types of populist and fake news content in order to explain the very mechanisms that make them appealing to large masses. We argue that the most persuasive populist arguments appeal to people’s own biases (including political ones), attitudes and stereotypes, all meaningful in a highly polarized media environment, which also explains why people get captive in the same type of arguments of politically biased fake news. We believe that, arguably, the fake news most susceptible to being spread and “swallowed” without much critical thinking is politically manipulated and fabricated content. When trying to make distinctions and put order into the “messiness’ of populist communication, Hameleers (2018) proposes a typology of populist messages, considering vertical and horizontal oppositions and senderversus-receiver sides of communication. In this chapter, we focus on the sender’s (or producer) point of view when discussing the types of populist arguments and types of fake news disseminated through the media, and on the receiver’s point of view when trying to explain the mental mechanisms that help people accept and/or spreadthese types of content. From the sender-side point of view, vertical types are related to people’s enemy that threatens from above, i.e., elites (political, economic, cultural) that deprive people of their rightful benefits. The author discusses four categories of populist messages: antiestablishment, antieconomic elites, antiexperts, and antimedia (p. 2174). Of these four types, often the antiestablishment arguments find their way into what has been called the manipulated content type of fake news. Basically, this type of false content scores relatively low in facticity and high in the intention to deceive (Tandoc et al., 2018) and is often used to increase political polarization and radicalize opinions. This type of purposely elaborated content aiming at misinforming people goes easily uncontested and unverified by the receivers. One possible explana- Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 185 tion is that political partisans, like sports fans, “have a strong tendency to process political information in a highly biased way that tends to confirm their preexisting ideologies and prejudices” (Somin, 2013, p. 124). In other words, people overvalue information that supports their prior views, opinions, and beliefs, while largely undervaluing or ignoring facts that contradict them. Much in the same way populist arguments are often well received as they address people’s own values, opinions, or views (sometimes frustrations) on specific political matters. Research on exposure to political misinformation (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2018) has shown that people do not fact-check suspicious news stories they read online. Hence, it is not surprising that fabricated content about particular groups and individuals, about politicians and political parties contributes to the development and consolidation of political misperceptions, i.e., flawed judgments about political facts. From a horizontal point of view, the out-groups that threaten the “good people” are often immigrants, ethnic, religious or sexual minorities, and sometimes welfare state profiteers (for right-wing populism) or the minority of the extremely rich (for left-wing populism), thus accounting for three more types of populism: in-group superiority, exclusionist populism, and welfare state chauvinist populism (Hameleers, 2018, pp. 2175-2176). Moreover, the online context, especially social media, fosters all these types of content, with one additional feature: because the sender side in social media is often not a media outlet, but rather individuals, “people who express themselves in populist ways may be primed by the populist responses of others” (Hameleers, 2018, p. 2181). This type of circularity is shared with the fake news phenomenon; the sender and receiver sides of communication are almost interchangeable in the social media environment, which does not necessarily mean that they actually become producers of fake news. However, more often than not, people get trapped into the arguments about one (counterfactual) piece of information, and they often forget to question its truthfulness, thus priming responses legitimizing the content. This is the same kind of mechanism that perpetuates populist arguments in the social media. In addition to uncritically approaching the content offered, people are also “biased information-seekers” (Lazer et al., 2017, p. 6) who tend to trust information coming from a familiar source whose opinions confirm their existing (political) views. From this point of view, it is highly relevant that ordinary people become not only involved in discussions, thus forgetting to question the sources, but they also become nodes of further spread of the information that caught their attention. In a following section of this chapter, we will discuss the role of emotions in this process. Furthermore, when processing political informa- Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 186 tion, especially political misperceptions, people are rather driven by directionally motivated reasoning than by accuracy motivations, and this processing is based on affective evaluation of politics (Flynn, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2017, pp. 9-12). Directional motivations are often shaped by cognitive biases. People tend to prefer congenial information (i.e., confirmation bias) and to dismiss information that contradicts their preexisting views (i.e., disconfirmation bias), which is to say that “people’s interpretation of factual information depends on whether the information reinforces or contradicts directional preferences” (Flynn, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2017, p. 12). To sum up, populist arguments and fake news share a number of features embedded in the very fabric of the (social) media; they make use of sensational and emotional arguments (we will discuss emotionality in a following section), they overlap especially in the context of political information, which is often biased (and thus, to a certain extent, counterfeit) in populist ways, and they are augmented by specific mechanisms of social media platforms. Blame and Stereotypes as Facilitators of Populist and Counterfeit Information Populism has been linked to blame and stereotypes (in short, to judgments) in various ways, of which effects are the most notable. Populist messages are, by excellence, built on blaming others (various out-groups, as discussed in the previous section). This type of attribution of responsibility related to various social groups (Hobolt & Tilley, 2014; Iyengar, 1994) has been proven to lead to effects on stereotypes (Arendt, Marquart, & Matthes, 2015; Corbu et al., 2019; Matthes & Schmuck, 2017) and blame attribution to various social categories (Hameleers, Bos, & de Vreese, 2017a; Hameleers, Bos, & de Vreese, 2017b; 2018). At the same time, both stereotypes and blame have been extensively studied as independent variables. Blame, being at the core of most populist arguments, has been intrinsically analyzed as an independent variable in virtually all populist effects studies (for overview of the literature, see Andreadis et al., 2019; Corbu et al., 2019; Hameleers, Bos & de Vreese, 2017a; 2017b; 2018). Stereotypes have been shown to generate negative attitudes and prejudice (see the integrated threat theory of prejudice: Stephan et al., 1998; Ybarra & Stephan, 1994). These types of effects are of interest for this chapter as they are explained by cognitive mechanisms that we believe play an important role in the way people accept misleading content as legitimate. To show this connection, we rely on schemata theory (Brewer & Nakamura, 2. Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 187 1984), which provides the ground for the modern approaches to understanding how stereotypes work. The stereotyping process is believed to function in two stages: association and activation, which generate implicit, and respectively, explicit stereotypes (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Greenwald et al., 2002; Strack & Deutsch, 2004). The first stage refers to the automatic process of activating nodes (concepts) and links (associations) in the memory (thus being inevitable) to retrieve information leading to implicit stereotypes. The activation stage “moves” stereotypes into consciousness, which implies that people express judgments overtly (Greenwald et al., 2002; Strack & Deutsch, 2004). The media role in the activation of stereotypes is often explained within the priming framework, which provides arguments about how regular exposure to stereotypes presented by the media can lead to building stereotypical memory traces (Arendt, 2013, p. 830). Populist communication has been shown to enhance stereotypes toward various out-groups in different contexts (Corbu et al., 2019). In fact, as in the case of “blame,” there is a vicious circle that fosters negative stereotyping; media stereotypes – “mass-mediated depictions of social groups that are repeatedly paired with specific attributes” (Arendt, Marquart, & Matthes, 2015, p. 179) – form, in time, memory traces that could be subsequently quickly activated by sometimes even short exposures. At the same time, the “pictures in people’s heads” (Lippmann, 1922/1965), especially in the social media environment where the sender and receiver of the communication content are often interchangeable enhance and amplify the stereotypes generated by the (social) media. Thus, these pictures become so much embedded in the “common knowledge” or schemata of the audience (Ramasubramanian, 2007, p. 251) that they are subsequently primed by the weakest media stereotypes. We argue that a similar mechanism applies to fake news: it is credible exactly because it resonates with prior stereotypes in people’s minds; the more a media content resonates with the cognitive schemata of the audiences, the less critical the audience is, and the more credible is the news created using these stereotypes. At the same time, blaming the (political, most of the time) elites resides at the core of both populism and politically biased information, which is in fact manipulated content, respecting facts to a certain degree, but using journalistic frames to show some political actors, or parties, or institutions in a favorable light, while largely blaming their opponents. The highly polarized media environment, both traditional media outlets (fostered by people’s selective exposure mechanisms) and social media (fed by people’s own echo chambers and by algorithm filter bubbles), provide a debate arena where the responsibility and conflict Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 188 frames dividing political actors into heroes or scapegoats often feed on the very stereotypes that people hold of various vertical out-groups. While it may be argued that the technological changes affecting information flows in the age of social media could have some positive individual effects, such as individual attitudinal stability leading to individual certainty and security, there is growing evidence for their negative societal effects (Geschke et al., 2019, p.145). Societal fragmentation and polarization erode the democratic processes of decision-making by undermining conflict resolution (Sunstein, 2017). To reach a society-wide consensus, it is necessary to encourage diversity of opinions and beliefs, to listen to people expressing different opinions, and to engage in dialogue with them. Filter bubbles minimize exposure to information that contradicts previous opinions held by people and challenge their individual attitudes (Pariser, 2011). Through echo chambers and filter bubbles, misinformation in social media enhances the radicalization of opinions and fuels group polarization. With no conflicting incoming information, such echo chambers are likely to mobilize “like-minded” people to engage in politics, to assign blame to various social categories and to propagate stereotypes related to out-groups. Furthermore, increasing group polarization often triggers inflammatory and discriminatory views to be treated as facts, which makes them credible and trustworthy. Growing radicalization and polarization also contribute to strengthening the self-perception in opposition to “them.” Studies measuring the effects of fake news are still rather scarce (see, for example, Van Duyn & Collier, 2019), with the exception of political satire and parody that are some of the avatars of this particular phenomenon and that have been largely analyzed previously (Balmas, 2014; Brewer, Young & Morreale, 2013; Littau & Stewart, 2015). Nonetheless, we argue that politically biased fake news that manipulates content as opposed to fabricating it (Tandoc et al., 2018) is more prone to produce effects. Totally fabricated content, scoring high on the deceitfulness scale might backfire. Therefore, often skewed in radical ways, but not necessarily counterfeit political arguments used by populist actors are one of the many facets of the general term of “fake news,” a feature to fear much more than its “poor relative,” i.e., grossly fabricated content. Summing up, the success of politically biased type of fake news could be explained by the fact that people largely resonate with schemata, stereotypes and judgments in their minds, which makes them less prone to critical thinking and more willing to accept media content by virtue of cognitive response to persuasion (Greenwald, 1968). At the same time, most of the stereotypes related to political life or economic and political elites are Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 189 fostered, fed, and amplified by populist communication. People appropriate these stereotypes to such an extent that they become “true” precisely when individuals recognize them in (correct or counterfeit) media content. Moreover, people’s need to fight a common enemy, to divide the social order into “us” and “them” to have a sense of belonging to a particular social group, has many implications for the polarization of both media and society. The Role of Emotions in the Dissemination and Amplification of Populist Messages and Fake News Populist political communication is considered to have an “extra ingredient” i.e, enthusiasm, which “draws normally unpolitical people into the political arena” (Canovan, 1999, p. 6). However, enthusiasm is not the only engine that makes populist messages more appealing than their nonpopulist counterparts. Emotionality, in general, is theorized to be embedded into populist communication in the form of many discrete emotions (Demertzis, 2006), which have been proven to be elicited by populist cues in communication and to mediate effects of the persuasiveness of a message (Wirz, 2018). Many discrete emotions have been linked to populist appeals, but fear and anger are often studied as very powerful emotional responses to people being depicted as powerless in their power struggle with the elites (Betz, 1993; Hameleers, Bos, & de Vreese, 2017a; Rico, Guinjoan & Anduiza, 2017; Wirz, 2018). Of these two, anger is the discrete emotion that is easily elicited by the very Manichean tendency of populist messages to split society into two antagonistic groups and, at the same time, to play the moral card of offended ordinary people (Rico, Guinjoan, & Anduiza, 2017, p. 449). Morality pervades populist messages as the preferred outgroup of this type of communication is “the culprit elite” in contrast with “the good people.” Generally, emotions are considered to trigger various types of reactions (Gross, 2008; Uribe & Gunter, 2007). In the new media environment, dominated by a chain of reactions, this is a key element for news content going viral and being subject of vivid debates. Both populist communication and various types of fake news that use sensational features are subject to viralization and emotional persuasive appeals. As Wardle and Derakhshan (2017) argue, “the most ‘successful’ of problematic content is that which plays on people’s emotions, encouraging feelings of superiority, anger or fear” (p. 7). 3. Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 190 Emotion is what draws people to echo chambers. The affective and provocative nature of much of the false content disseminated and co-created in echo chambers makes people who are exposed to it emotionally antagonized and outraged (Bakir & McStay, 2018, p. 6). The highly emotional content circulating within the walls of echo chambers also helps consolidate the perception of an in-group identity, which leads to growing fragmentation and radicalization. People often jump into heated debates that sometimes become inflammatory and insulting. The magnetism of affective content makes people more receptive to false content, which they accept uncritically. In addition to emotionality, echo chambers also impact the virality of dis- and misinformation. Admittedly, gathering people with similar worldviews together suffices to affect the virality of content that resonates with their views (Törnberg, 2018, p. 17). Fake news has, arguably, higher chances to go viral in segregated online communities. The presence of clusters of users sharing similar worldviews may be sufficient for misinformation to thrive, “as virality increases with network homophily” (Törnberg, 2018, p. 18). Contrary to expectations, the disappearance of the gatekeeping role performed by the media has not fostered an overt arena of communication in the Habermasian sense but instead has opened up a space for fake news to thrive and to favor segregation and polarization (Törnberg, 2018; Bergmann, 2018). At the same time, the new “hybrid media systems” foster propagation of fake news (for more elaborate conclusions regarding the hybrid media environment, fake news and populism, see Taylor et al., 2018). However, there are studies that found no support for partisan echo chambers (Dvir-Gvirsman et al., 2016; Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2011; Weeks et al., 2016), or that suggest that “previous work may have overestimated the degree of ideological segregation in social-media usage” (Barberá, Jost, Nagler, Tucker & Bonneau, 2015, p. 1531). This “trench warfare” (Karlsen, Steen-Johnsen, Wollebæk & Enjolras, 2015), however, seems to also reinforce existing views and beliefs (Karlsen, Steen-Johnsen, Wollebæk & Enjolras, 2015), as both selective exposure and confirmation bias (that are at work in shaping people’s reinforcing beliefs in any context) play an important role in the consumption and spread of information (Del Vicario, Zollo, Caldarelli, Scala & Quattrociocchi, 2017). Thus, it is still subject to debate to what extent echo chambers or “trench warfare” play a role in the viralization of content in online communities. Moreover, it has been argued that “reliance on gut feeling rather than on rational facts and deliberation is seen as a key factor in the success of populist parties” (Wirz, 2018, p. 1116). Similarly, people’s receptivity to Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 191 misinformation and their evaluation of false content as trustworthy are affect-laden (Lazer et al., 2017). Rational evaluations of fake news, such as fact-checking, do not actually lead to successful outcomes (Guess, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2018). As is the case with political misconceptions, corrections applied to misinformation trigger a “backfire effect” where they actually increase misconceptions and consolidate people’s original beliefs (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Lazer et al., 2017). What seems to matter is not how much fabricated or manipulated content fake news actually is but how realistic people perceive it to be. Studies on fake news effects have shown that people’s perception of fake news as realistic rather than exposure to it impacts positively on attitudes of inefficacy, alienation and cynicism toward politicians (Balmas, 2014). To conclude, emotionality is a core component of political communication and of populist discourse, in particular. Fear and anger are frequently discussed as strong emotional responses to populist messages. While there are rather few empirical examinations of the role played by emotions in the creation and spread of fake news, some studies suggest that the emotionality of the echo chambers is what brings and keeps people together even when fed with false information. People are less interested in seeking out the truth or in rationally evaluating the content they digest. Instead, they seem to rely on their perception of fake news as realistic and on their affective evaluations when making judgments about politics. Conclusions This study explores the juxtaposition of two phenomena that have recently gained visibility and popularity across various fields, political communication included: populism and fake news. We draw on existing scholarly work in the field to advance our three-pronged arguments that support a connection between the propagation and efficiency of populist discourse and online misinformation. While previous studies (Benkler et al., 2017; Engesser et al., 2016; Groshek & Koc-Michalska, 2017; Oliver & Rahn, 2016) have demonstrated “an elective affinity” (Gerbaudo, 2018) between populism and social media, a similar link between populism and fake news is currently gaining ground (see, for example, Bergmann, 2018; Taylor et al., 2018). However, we consider that such a connection is still lacking both theoretical and empirical strong support. However, we envisage three points of intersection between the two phenomena that we discuss here, and that could open future avenues for research on populism and fake news. 4. Nicoleta Corbu & Elena Negrea-Busuioc 192 The first juxtaposition lies in the way in which both populism and fake news exploit the new media context generated by the transformations in the information ecosystem fostered by technological developments. The changes to media logic that include the shift from accuracy, facticity and objectivity to immediacy, rapid circulation and emotionality provide a fertile ground for the propagation of both populist messages and misinformation. Social media favor the dissemination and amplification of false attractive content, sometimes at the expense of content that is newsworthy and true. The new media consumption patterns have become increasingly dominated by ‘news snacks’ (MacArthur, 1993; Meijer & Kormelink, 2015; Molyneux, 2018), which provides a fertile ground for people’s laziness; they look for shortcuts, accept opinions that do not contradict their views, and reject those that are different. This change benefits both populism and fake news since both thrive when polarization and radicalization are high. The echo chambers where people surround themselves with information that is aligned with their own worldviews and reduce their exposure to conflicting ideas are ideal for propagating populist messages and misinformation. Another crossing between the two phenomena under scrutiny in this chapter resides in blame attribution and stereotype consolidation. Substantial research on populism effects has shown that populist messages significantly impact stereotypes and blame attribution to out-groups. Similarly, assigning blame and propagating stereotypes seem to be dominating features of online misinformation. Echo chambers are likely to display a mobilizing effect on people holding similar opinions who engage in politics and assign blame to various social categories (frequently to out-groups) and help propagate stereotypes of the out-groups. People are not concerned with the truth value of the content they are given; instead, they often treat inflammatory, discriminatory and even offensive views as facts, which makes them credible and trustworthy, thus feeding into their latent stereotypes and biases. Moreover, as far as the arguments provided in the news largely consolidate people’s own stereotypes, prejudices and attitudes, they make these arguments their own, not questioning their truthfulness any longer. Finally, populism and fake news connect at the level of the emotional appeal of their content. Emotions are embedded in populist communication, with emotionally loaded populist messages triggering anger or fearrelated responses in people. People’s confidence in and receptivity of misinformation are consequences of affective evaluations rather than rationally motivated choices. Fact-checking and corrections applied to misinforma- Populism Meets Fake News: Social Media, Stereotypes and Emotions 193 tion seem to backfire and lead to increasing misconceptions and consolidation of people’s initial views. References Akkerman, T. (2011). Friend or foe? Right-wing populism and the popular press in Britain and the Netherlands. Journalism, 12(8), 931–945. doi: 10.1177/ 14648849 11415972 Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211–236. doi: 10.1257/jep.31.2.211 Andreadis, I., Cremonesi, C., Kartsounidou, E., Kasprowicz, D., & Hess, A. (2019). 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This volume assembles a wide range of perspectives on populism and the media, bringing together various disciplinary and theoretical approaches, authors and examples from different continents and a wide range of topical issues. The chapters discuss the contexts of populist communication, communication by populist actors, different types of populist messages (populist communication in traditional and new media, populist criticism of the media, populist discourses related to different topics, etc.), the effects and consequences of populist communication, populist media policy and anti-populist discourses. The contributions synthesise existing research on this subject, propose new approaches to it or present new findings on the relationship between populism and the media. With contibutions by Caroline Avila, Eleonora Benecchi, Florin Büchel, Donatella Campus, María Esperanza Casullo, Nicoleta Corbu, Ann Crigler, Benjamin De Cleen, Sven Engesser, Nicole Ernst, Frank Esser, Nayla Fawzi, Jana Goyvaerts, André Haller, Kristoffer Holt, Christina Holtz-Bacha, Marion Just, Philip Kitzberger, Magdalena Klingler, Benjamin Krämer, Katharina Lobinger, Philipp Müller, Elena Negrea-Busuioc, Carsten Reinemann, Christian Schemer, Anne Schulz, Christian Schwarzenegger, Torgeir Uberg Nærland, Rebecca Venema, Anna Wagner, Martin Wettstein, Werner Wirth, Dominique Stefanie Wirz


Der Band vereint ein breites Spektrum von Perspektiven auf das Thema Populismus und Medien. Er bringt verschiedene fachliche und theoretische Ansätze, Beitragende und Beispiele von mehreren Kontinenten und ein breites Spektrum aktueller Themen und Herausforderungen zusammen. Die Kapitel behandeln den Kontext populistischer Kommunikation, Kommunikation durch populistische Akteure, verschiedene Typen populistischer Botschaften (populistische Kommunikation in traditionellen und neuen Medien, populistische Medienkritik, populistische Diskurse zu verschiedenen Themen), Wirkungen und Konsequenzen populistischer Kommunikation, populistische Medienpolitik, aber auch antipopulistische Diskurse. Die Beiträge systematisieren vorhandene Forschung, schlagen neue Ansätze vor oder präsentieren neue Befunde zum Verhältnis von Populismus und Medien. Mit Beiträgen von Caroline Avila, Eleonora Benecchi, Florin Büchel, Donatella Campus, María Esperanza Casullo, Nicoleta Corbu, Ann Crigler, Benjamin De Cleen, Sven Engesser, Nicole Ernst, Frank Esser, Nayla Fawzi, Jana Goyvaerts, André Haller, Kristoffer Holt, Christina Holtz-Bacha, Marion Just, Philip Kitzberger, Magdalena Klingler, Benjamin Krämer, Katharina Lobinger, Philipp Müller, Elena Negrea-Busuioc, Carsten Reinemann, Christian Schemer, Anne Schulz, Christian Schwarzenegger, Torgeir Uberg Nærland, Rebecca Venema, Anna Wagner, Martin Wettstein, Werner Wirth, Dominique Stefanie Wirz