You are here

Connective 'Alt-Right' Action on Reddit

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Alex Hogan, whose focus is on the impact of online political communities in politics. There is still considerable debate on whether online action promotes or retards other forms of collective action offline; the recent rise of the 'alt-right' adds another chapter to this discussion.

'Alt-right' activists have made effective use of the Internet and especially of social media to organise and coordinate their activities, attack their enemies, and disseminate their propaganda and narratives. These activists exist largely outside of conventional conservative parties, and refute conventional political processes while supporting alternative, outsider candidates like Donald Trump instead.

The present study examined the r/The_Donald community on Reddit; it examined some 16 million comments from some 340,000 contributors up to February 2017. Activities peaked around specific major events, but also showed a steadily high level of activity throughout the campaign. Participants were largely active for extended periods of time (on average, more than two months), and the most active contributors were also exclusively contribution to this one Reddit forum.

Participants also engaged in collective mobilisation through this forum – attacking, for instance, the comedian Amy Schumer, or the trailer for a Netflix series called "Dear White People". Comments contributing to such campaigns were both diagnostic (outlining the context of their participation), prognostic (identifying approaches to campaigning), or motivational (offering reasons to participate).

Strong collective identities were important here to motivate people to engage; the community in question was both a community of interest and a community of practice, and this is evidence of connective action, too. Participants expressed a strong shared need to act in a specific way in these two campaigns; after the U.S. presidential election, the community became a space where members developed ideas for how they could assist the agenda of the new President, and new participants continued to arrive in the community. They also began to pay more attention to fellow travellers elsewhere, such as far-right leader Marine Le Pen in France. Sharing ideas and approaches to digital activism continues to be a core practice here.