The emergence of The Network Society has seen the mass commercialisation of the internet and digital media forms, and with this comes the expansion into new territories that were once excluded. Whilst technological use was once limited to certain demographics and access relatively unattainable for some, what we are seeing now increasingly is a growth in a counter-hegemonic dimension to the internet and digital media in which it is being used to express radical and often extremist views (Castells, 2010). As the use of the internet has grown ever more uninhibited it has been questioned whether a digitally connected society is a more liberal one.
Alternative media are media texts that differ from established or dominant types of media in terms of their content, how they are produced or how they are distributed. What will be discussed in this part of the text is the far right wing and their alternative internet presence in reference to the British National Party (BNP) and to what extent the BNP positions itself in cyberspace, how they use digital technologies and to what impact. The BNP is a party that was formed towards the beginning of the early 1990’s after a surge of popularity of the far right within the centre of Britain’s politics. Its beliefs are founded deep within racial nationalism in which their success is based on the collective admonition to protect white British identity as whiteness is an “essentialised social identity which they say is under threat”. The website displays the motto ‘Love Britain’ however the upholding British “Identity” is one of the codes that the right wing on the internet uses to disguise its discourse on racism.
The BNP use internet technologies to reach out to a wider audience and to gain a sense of community within this online public sphere. They have asserted them into the public sphere in Habermas’s sense of the term by creating a wider sense of identity. The party’s huge focus on their online presence has stemmed from the need for a space to bypass the censorship and criticism they faced from the mainstream media. “The BNP makes use of the expected technologies of web site construction and presentation, such as internal hyperlinks, PDF downloads, online shopping, email links, mailing list” and audio and video extracts from both public and commercial broadcast media (Atton, 81, 2004). Currently, the BNP website contains no chat forum or discussion rooms after they were forced to close it down after messages were posted by oppositional political organisations.
The construction of cultural history is emphasised on the website with focus on heritage and culture. “The culture is emphatically pan-British, emphasising Celtic and Anglo-Saxon influences” (Atton, 73, 2004) and it is interesting to see how the BNP use fundraising campaigns to promote the protection and preservation of white Britishness, for example one that is currently featured which reads; “Rebecca will be an ethnic minority in her British ancestral homeland when she grows up, unless you take action today, donate now” (BNP, 2015). We can assume that the choices made on content are one occupied by racial purity, and what such campaigns endorse is the very racist thought of ethnic cleansing. What is present here is the imaginary construction of white identity as one in which is seen as repressed and in need of defence. The threat is that of multiculturalism and the endeavour is “to preserve the ethnic and cultural identity of the British People”. Stuart Hall in his writings on Caribbean cinema and cultural identity identified three presences in which identity can be fabricated, one in which is useful to explain the BNP’s discourse. He argued that an ‘imagined community’ exists in which Africa to Caribbean people becomes the origin of their identity, unchanged and unattainable (Hall, 231, 1990). Similarly the Britain that the BNP constructs with its odes to historical English figures is imaginary, yet it wants to protect this cultural identity from other presences that may adulterate its purity and produce difference and change in a culture that they ultimately want to protect.
In support of far right politics we have also seen the emergence of facebook groups such as ‘Britain First’ who are clear in their racial policies, hatred for immigrants, and extreme nationalism. Over 400,000 people have decided to “like” Britain First’s Facebook page, meaning this extreme-right hate group has more followers on a social network than any other political party in the UK. The fascist digital community use animal cruelty shock tactics to gain donations disguised as fundraising campaigns. The illegal funding of this group highlights the extent radical groups will go to achieve popularity on social media.
Following Foucault’s ideas on power as discourse (1980), it has been argued that “discourse is not only constituted by existing social formations and historical accounts, but is itself constitutive of social groups, subject positions and identities” (Atton, 67, 2004). The role of discourse in producing power is evident in the use of radical media practices. Through the knowledge that is constituted as power through discursive formations, this power is what is capable of forming subjects and followers. The discursive formations that are used may come in the shape of propaganda, rules, speeches, writings and practices. From a constitutive approach it is important to understand how “discourse can produce forms of social action”. What will be considered is the application of these ‘rituals of power’ and ‘the effects such rituals have on agents and subjects’ in close relation to The Islamic State (Atton, 67, 2004).
A successful strategy in which extremist movements are using is that of digital marketing. Daesh or The Islamic State as we know is a salafi jihadist militant group and terrorist organisation who declared themselves a worldwide caliphate in June 2014. Whilst remorselessly murderous, what is particularly threatening about ISIS is that they are a contemporary globally networked terrorist organisation that are technologically sophisticated (Roberts, 2014). They have taken to social media to try market the group as legitimate and focus on entrenching its political longevity as a caliphate and encourage Western Muslims to join the group.
One journalist noted that “In addition to an extensive use of Twitter, ISIS militants have taken to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms in a bid to raise money, recruit fighters and amplify their message. Theirs is a sophisticated effort directed at winning hearts and minds within as well as beyond the borders of the caliphate” (Bonzio, 2014). There are three levels to the geography of online extremism; level one sees the use of social media outlets to promote propaganda and publications, level two consists of “dedicated websites for the dissemination of propaganda and some web forums with both public and private sections” and the final level named ‘the dark web’ consists of “password-protected forums which are often hidden using file repositories and storage sites” (OSCE, 2015).
What is disturbing about ISIS is how carefully planned and coordinated there digital efforts are. Current images and information of the fighters are updated online along with recruitment videos posted on YouTube, are filled with ISIS ideology. The twitter and facebook accounts used to try and recruit fighters and lure young girls into a life of jihad marriage are terrifyingly successful. Monitoring what young people are exposed to on the internet is difficult and predicting how they will react to it is even more so. The Islamic State romanticise its portrayal “in the nature of a religious obligation or duty” and thus exploit their recruits who often just want to go and help their brothers and sisters in Islam. A glossy Islamic state propaganda magazine under the name of ‘Dabiq’ – a key location in Muslim mythology, is regularly produced and printed aimed to appeal to The West. The most recent issue boasting of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut with the angle of a medieval fairytale, referring to the attackers as “crusaders” “knights” (Claron Project, 2015).
Following a leaked document of ISIS papers headlined by the guardian as “behind ‘death cult’ image lies a methodical bureaucracy”, the ISIS blueprint was covered. Whilst the leaking of these documents may in itself have been a publicity stunt, entailed in these documents is a chapter on ‘media strategies’ which revealed the extent in which ISIS manipulate the media and use propaganda. One of “the themes that come through from the documents is Isis’s desire to portray itself as a utopia for true believers” and the groups commitment in creating an ‘idealistic caliphate’. The use of cheerful Islamic state images, facebook and instagram accounts of the militants smiling as ‘brothers’ brand the organisation and promote the idea of unity and a utopia (Malik, 2015).
In September 2014 followed the video released by ISIS of the beheading of James Coley, the CIA admitted to staging fake jihadist videos in 2010 (Stein, 2000). What is important to consider when looking at radical media practices is the elements of media images and staged images and events being used for maximum publicity. There have been speculations into the authenticity of the ISIS killing videos. “Media Images speed up information” and “are generated through hypermediacy”, if then ISIS wanted to establish themselves as an immediate threat once announcing themselves as a caliphate then staged image events such as graphic videos that would reach maximum publicity through shares online and news coverage are a way of articulating their political standpoint and causing a media spectacle (Roberts, 161, 2014).
In conclusion as Atton noted “We can examine radical media practices for examples of how naturalised media frames and ideological codes can be disrupted” (Atton, 64, 2004). Radical media use has produced harmful results. It has been said that right wing extremists are “Creating an “electronic community of hate”. Islamic Extremism, White supremacy and Racism within the public sphere of the internet are communicated and networked without censorship. The internet being used to express radical and oppositional views can render dangerous as it allows extreme racial ideas to circulate, with the people who do so being a threatening part of society. Is what has been considered in this text harmful distribution or just free speech and really should racist and extremist discourse on the internet simply be considered as alternative media?
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