Facebook, Zuckerberg & Far Right Mobilisation in Ireland

Illustration: Mark Malone


Authors Note: In April 2019, the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg visited Ireland. The visit was part of a European public relations tour, itself part of a global exercise to minimise the damage caused by a stream of controversies around data privacy, information leaks, and centrally, Facebook’s  unwillingness to face up to the reality that the platform is a main plack of organised radicalising process of hatred, racism homophobia and misogyny.

Facebook’s ongoing PR strategy has been relatively successful in shaping a public narrative that their ability to exercise control over their product – and take responsibility for predicted impacts such radicalisation, and far right propagandising – is a question of what is possible for the organisation rather than what is profitable for the organisation.

 Up to late 2018, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg pushed back against any regulation of the platform and of any suggestions that the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram brands be split up from the single ownership and control of Zuckerberg.  However successive PR disasters – not least the hiring of an PR firm to smear George Soros – brought a change in tactics, and an about move in early 2019, saw Zuckerberg on a tour to meet elected politicians. This was essentially to invite nation states to come up with solutions to the Facebook Frankenstein, while Zuckerberg and co keep raking in the billions and simultaneously avoid dealing with the problem themselves.  

It was in this context that the Far Right Observatory took the opportunity of Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Ireland last April to ensure the CEO himself was personally handed a briefing document of what we have been observing here. Whilst the briefing document contained an –as yet unanswered – request to meet, the primary objective was to remove any sense of plausible deniability by Facebook’s owner, and by extension the organisation in Ireland, from the date of the meeting – 2nd April 2019 – about the precise nature of Facebooks role as a tool of hate organising and platform of radicalisation.  The briefing document was given to one of the three Dail representatives meeting Mark Zuckerberg and this was handed directly to Zuckerberg. Though much of what is contained will be recognised by many readers, it was an attempt to draw together the scale, scope, themes and methodology is a compact digestible form


The far right observatory itself is a loose network of individuals/working together in November 2018. We came together through a concern of observable increase in online organising around anti migrant, Islamophobia, anti feminism, and trans/homophobia following the succesful Repeal the 8th campaign. Those concerns were heightened following specific incidents that seem fueled by hatred of people seeking international protection in Ireland and specifically around the Irish states racist policy of Direct Provision. Part of this work included monitoring communication platforms including the use of Facebook by far right actors and groups. This monitoring built upon previous work monitoring far right and racist activity on Facebook back as far as 2014. What follows below is the briefing document as handed to Mark Zuckerberg.

We are witnessing an exponential growth in far right organising and clear attempts to radicalise sections of the population via Facebook (FB). In 2019 these pages number over 40 (forty) with a total of 130,000 Facebook profiles liking these pages.  A base figure from 2015 monitoring was 3-4 pages.

We are observing that Facebook as a space for radicalisation and polarisation at a scale never seen before in this country.  We recommend  meeting Facebook representatives to discuss our evidence and concerns.

Responses by Facebook own reporting structures around racism, homophobia, white supremacist, ethno-nationalist content from Irish based Facebook pages is at best haphazard and inconsistent.  At worst Facebook is facilitating the growth of hate movements in Ireland.

Facebook failed to tackle far right misinformation and organising on Facebook during the Repeal referendum in Ireland in 2018. We expect – that without transparent and effective actions by Facebook –  in the upcoming 2019 European and Local elections, Facebook  will once again became an effective tool for the dissemination of lies, fabrications and racist, homophobic and anti immigrant sentiment.

Facebook needs to take visible and effective action to stop such radicalisation.

Introduction

Research in this document was conducted between November 2018 and February 2019, and is a rolling analysis. For its purposes, the far right in Ireland refers to individuals or groupings with an extreme ethno-nationalist outlook, often accompanied by explicit or implicit racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as well as misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. A rejection of social and political diversity, is often accompanied by strong anti-science perspective and a conspiratorial mindset and may include a right-wing populist ideal of ‘the elites’ versus the ‘pure people’ – also expressed in a narrative of ‘corruption’ versus  ‘purity’.

Context

Far right activity has emerged in Ireland in the context of austerity; plummeting trust in institutions – public and the media; a growth in new technology; a vacuum left after the water charges movement; and losses on the right in the two recent referendums. Although still small, emergent strands include micro political organisations of the far right in Ireland and emerging individuals and Facebook pages building up brand identities solely on the basis of racist, Islamophobic and ethno nationalist sentiment. There is an interplay between communication platform and publishers and we see Facebook as a primary recruiting ground for support for emerging disparate far right groups.  We are happy to provide further evidence from our analysis in any future meeting with Facebook


International Linkages

Trump, Salvini, Orban and Brexit has emboldened far-right activity across Europe. English is the linga franca and ethno-nationalist have adherents in most European countries. New connections and conversations are now taking place. Talking points however, are not organic, but deliberate and orchestrated  analysis, and framing happens outside of Ireland with stock phrases imported and reproduced. A coded language emerges with phrases such as ‘Cultural Marxism’, used by terrorists such as Anders Briviek and the white supremacist murders in New Zealand.  We are seeing the explicit promotion of cultural marxism and white supremacism by right wing groups and Facebook is failing to remove these or take any meaningful actions against these pages

These are used to emulate far right discourse and show a shared common philosophy. Worryingly, international far right figures are increasingly interested in Ireland, indicating it is being viewed as potentially fertile recruitment ground.

Far Right Narratives and Themes

There are legitimate concerns over mainstream politics, the role of public institutions and a remote media. These concerns however, are being exploited as a wedge to drive forward far right narratives and mobilise people. Blaming a corrupt elite (Politicians, Media), creating an external enemy (EU, Soras) and an internal enemy (Migrants, Muslims) are recurring themes. While there is significant overlap, the themes identified below are consistent with experiences of other countries.

Meta Narratives

Traitorous elite versus the pure people – A meta narrative and closely associated with Fascism. Framing general population as ‘stupid’ and specific target groups as traitors and deviants, while positioning themselves  as ‘truth’ holders. Their role is to expose the ‘deviants’ and encourage public policing.

Globalism – as opposed to globalisation – is a specific far right trope, with ‘globalists’ held responsible for individual developments – from immigration to abortion – in a push to impose a ‘new world order’.

Irish Cultural Purity/ Nativism – Promoting fear, sits alongside the dominate ‘take back control’ framing. The dilution of Irish culture and the need to protect ‘native Irishness’, with fear of change and nostalgic and romantic view of Ireland evident.

Specific Themes

Anti-Immigration – Use of UN Global Compact as  galvanising opportunity to push back mass migration and assert Ireland is flooded and over run.

Islamophobia/ anti-Semitism – Ireland is being ‘lslamicised’ and colonised (a new plantation) upholding Irish culture and purity narratives. Escalating in 2018 and linked to Repeal the 8, and UN Global Compact, George Soros and his OSF  foundation accused of interfering with shaping public opinion. This is driven by anti-semitic tropes.

Direct Provision/Asylum Seekers – Targeting of planned opening of Direct Provision centres and new Community Sponsorship programme, uses Irish first and ‘purity’ narratives.

Housing/evictions – Historically the work of the left, now increasingly see far right discourse co-opting evictions as a catalyst for recruitment and mobilisation.

Pro Life/Anti-Abortion – A dominant theme since the referendum – linked to ‘traditional’ values and role of women.

Anti-Feminism – Explicit authoritarian world view, right of traditional conservatism and as social and ideological ‘corruption’ of people’s purity.

Transphobic and Homophobic – Internal and external discourse laden with this framing, even when not the topic of discussion.

Anti-EU – Irexit is part of a bundle of far right themes. It  reflects an Irish ethno-national and anti-European perspective upholding white male European values.

Free Speech – Present extreme views in a narrative that links to the right to free speech. This framing allows justification and legitimisation of any and all opinions and statements.

Conspiracy Theories – Escalation in anti-vaccine, fluoridation, chemtrails conspiracies, along with Jewish families running financial world systems.

Anti-Corruption – Resonates with a wide audience given the multiple crisis of legitimacy at state and institutional level. Manifest in the Anti-Corruption Ireland party.

Anti-Elite – The inability of the ‘elites’ to restore security and alleviate anxiety. This agenda fosters distrust and alienation and sits beside ‘traitors’ verus ‘purist’ narratives.

Anti-Mainstream Media – Far right attacks on media focus on their place in a wider national and international conspiracy (the ‘New World Order’), with explicit and implicit accusations of corruption and being run by unseen sinister forces.

Anti-NGO/Civil Society – NGO’s/Community Groups come under attack for being ‘pro-immigration’ (i.e. anti-racist) and likened to the ‘elite’. They are labelled as supporters of state policy because they receive grants. Like the media, they are portrayed as paid actors doing the bidding of outside forces.

Climate Change Denial & Environment – Climate denial evident in the general discussion, with a focus on anti-carbon tax, anti-wind turbines and 5G, as well as opposition to bog preservation.

Mapping

The mapping  in this document grew out of spotting Islamophobic and anti-migrant posts in online forums going back to 2014/2015. What was small and fringe in 2018/2019, has increasingly moved into real world activity with people willing to identify themselves. From 2016 onwards, a greater number of pages and content were showing up on Twitter and YouTube. Over 40 far right pages a total of 120,000 profiles likes on Facebook and Irish far right YouTube channels had over 300,000 subscribers. Although there is overlap, if mobilised there would be significant impact.

Additionally, a shared community and common identity through online spaces is emerging. Coordination on messaging and timing of online activity, points to conversations on other platforms – 4Chan, Discord and Gab and forums such as politicalIrish.com. These provide anonymous spaces for conversation, messaging and advance planning by individuals and groups. This coupled with the emergence of individual far right media propagandists – not specifically aligned to any of the micro political parties of the far right – see themselves as driving a greater synergy and alignment between groups. These actors are clear about what they are doing, are more organised and more emboldened.

Means and Methods in Action

Objectives: Reconfigure the ideological and cultural landscape and exacerbate existing crises to position themselves as the saviour of the “nation” and the working class simultaneously. Shift the centre ground to the right and the right to the far right while disrupting the left and progressive social movements.

Framing: ‘Globalists’ impose a ‘new world order’. Promoting fear, sits alongside the dominate ‘take back control’ framing. Fear of change and nostalgia of an idealised past scapegoating various groups while also positioning as ‘truth’ holders. These frames normalise anti-migrant, anti-feminist, islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic and anti-pluralist discourse.

Strategy: Drive a popular wedge and champion themes which speak to class issues – job security, housing or water charges. Create an incoherent logic and leverage social discontent to promote mistrust. Accuse civil society and public institutions of wasting taxpayers money with hidden and sinister agendas. Vilify mainstream media as liars with vested interests.

Tactics: Far right lead activists and politicians tend to studiously avoid overt racism, authoritarian aspirations, abuse or open threats. The tone can be moderate, respectable and reasonable. However, followers and social media comments tend to use hate speech and often have open calls to violence. The far right are often very strategic liars and real world aggressive organising, aims to disrupt, document and disseminate their narratives

Narratives: Present extreme views in a narrative that links to the right to free speech, often using humour and repeating compelling memes and messages. Exaggerated moral narratives reproduce fear scenarios. They use everyday language and offer common sense solutions championing concerns of everyday people. Strategic and nuanced narratives are often replaced by conspiratory ones.

Communicatations: Far right actors use a blend of technologies and online platforms, showing a capacity to produce online material that is sophisticated and social media savvy. Understand the importance of owning cultural space and making culture. Make polemic ‘documentaries’ which feign objectively and ‘balance’ while framing right wing position as self-evident ‘truth’.

Funding: Reproducing international messages at a national level to reach a critical level of mass appeal may attract a large donor base to Ireland.

Conclusions

Solidarity at this time cannot be underestimated. While far right populism is not new there is little doubt that we are in a growth moment. Ireland has been relatively immune compared to other European countries. Although the scale of far right activity relative to other contexts is still quite low, there has been a solid growth of their base here recently. Tech companies like Facebook et al, need to demonstrate accountability for the visible social and political impact of their product. We will continue to monitor this growth, and the impact or absence of the actions taken by Facebook and others.

People make decisions based on emotion and values. Far  right messaging and repeated tropes however, suggest a common origin affording a degree of predictability. This provides an opportunity for devising methods, arguments and practices at the points of intersection with mainstream discourse which speaks to people’s concerns and engages progressive values.

About Us

Members of the The Far Right Observatory came together in November 2018 out of concern about the rise of far right mobilisation in Ireland. The purpose of the group is to discuss, analyse and facilitate the sharing of ideas, information and resources. A small coordinating group helps steer the loosely organised Far Right Observatory. Get in contact by emailing hello@farrightobservatory.ie

2 thoughts on “Facebook, Zuckerberg & Far Right Mobilisation in Ireland

  1. Pingback: Hate Online – In Facebook the far right has found a haven in which to organise and spread their message – The Beacon

  2. Pingback: Editorial – Facebook’s need for profit is giving space to the far right to recruit and spread its message – The Beacon

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