Does digitalization support right wing propaganda?

By Nina Müller

After the demonstrations in Chemnitz and Köthen, the German right wing is louder than ever.  Professor Dr. Oliver Zöllner from the Media University in Stuttgart says that digitalization supports the extremists’ propaganda. Parties from the left wing and the middle now need to find a way to respond to that.

The current political situation in Germany could be described as emotionally charged. The grand coalition is crumbling, extremism is rising and after the two incidents in Chemnitz and Köthen the right wing is gaining more popularity than ever before.

Policemen standing guard at a right wing supporters protest in Chemnitz, Germany, August 27,, 2018

According to Professor Dr. Oliver Zöllner, the internet and especially social media are playing a big role in the current developments. He is a media researcher at the Media University in Stuttgart. “In times of digitalization everyone can be his own medium and everyone sits in his own filter bubble. That’s a general problem but it also makes it easier for right wing parties to spread their statements.

The media is involved, too: “If statements are provoking and loud, the press will report about them, too. The right wing knows exactly how to use that for its advantage.”

Zöllner says, that agenda setting is the key word. The media have become a mouthpiece for politicians and bad press has become a thing of the past. It is to be scrutinized in how far they themselves are responsible for the distribution of extreme statements from the right wing.

It does not matter whether the right wingers only know how to “play” the media better or not: Parties from the middle and the left wing need to find a solution for an adequate response. In October, the next local elections take place in Bavaria, one of the most relevant states in Germany and home of the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU) which is part of the grand coalition. Even though the demonstrations were in Chemnitz and Köthen, which is in East Germany, left wing parties from the south of Germany are just as aware of the right-wingers. Also, on a regional level.

Patrick Löw is part of the left-wing party Die Linke in Stuttgart. When asked how the demonstrations in East Germany affected his party, he says: “The pressure from the right wing can’t be denied, the naturality of how national socialists present themselves now has increased. And that’s the problem.”

According to him, the rhetoric of the right, like the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is one of the most important issues. Löw adds that one should be careful to not fall in line with them: “There is no refugee crisis or wave. We need to clearly define problems and their solutions. Refugees who are fleeing from home are not the reason for Germans living on the street.”

The liberal parties will have to adapt to the way the right wing presents itself right now, but the general strategy of the regional parliaments will not change significantly, says Patrick Löw. According to him, facing right wingers’ claims and behaviour in a clear and confident way is still the best solution.