Budapest, September 27—A new DEMOS H2020 study examining populist leaders and parties’ communication on social media found that populist posts triggers almost 3,000 more reactions and 500 more shares and comments than mainstream political leaders’ publications on Facebook. The preliminary findings confirm that Facebook, Europe’s favourite social media platform, has been an effective tool for populist actors to shape public opinion without the help of professional media outlets. (Download the study below.)
To find out how populist topics—including those about minority groups — fare with larger audiences, several project researchers and scholars examined users’ reactions to 130,000 populist actors’ posts circulated on Facebook. Researchers considered posts shared between August 2019 and October 2020 in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Turkey, and the UK.
The teams found that populist actors’ posts about ethnic minorities such as immigrants, refugees, Roma communities, or Kurds triggered more user engagements such as likes and shares. These posts were more popular than debates about the environment, elections, education, the economy, or COVID-19 on Facebook.
According to Federico Vegetti, professor at the University of Turin who led this research stream, preliminary results reveal how populist actors exploit a more direct form of communication with the public. “Facebook is the most widely used social network site in Europe and evidence, such as in Italy, suggests that mainstream media pick up on politician’s positions by looking into their communication on this platform.”
DEMOS — Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe — is a three-year collaborative research project with 15 consortium members across Europe. DEMOS is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework programme. The project, which kicked off in December 2018, has two chief objectives: better understand populism by investigating under-researched trends in existing scientific literature and contribute to addressing the challenge of populism through innovative and action research. Read more about DEMOS here.