Cyberactivism of the Radical Right in Europe and the USA: What, Who, and Why?
In November 2012, four activists of the neo-Nazi website Stormfront.org were arrested in Italy and accused of racial discrimination and incitement to racial hatred. The Stormfront , considered to be “the biggest hate website” by the American media, was born in the 90s, and from its operational base in Florida, now manages 15 forums all over the world, from Portugal to New Zealand. It posts lists of Jewish families along with insults against pro-immigrant actors. In 2008 it had 80,000 visitors, which increased by 2,000 per day after the election of Barack Obama. 1 In Austria, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) presently claims to have around 80,000 Facebook fans, as does the British National Party. 2 These online supporters “are not just armchair activists: many are party members and voters and they are more likely to demonstrate than the national average.” 3
These events are not isolated, instead they are emblematic of the shift by collective actors of many of their political and social activities to the online arena. In fact, as argued by social movement scholars, the Internet offers several advantages for the mobilization of political actors including low costs, fast and effi cient communication connecting isolated individuals and groups from around the world, and a good tool for the coordination and socialization that overcomes problems of leadership and helps transnationalization. The main focus is the way the Internet and the new ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) are used by civil society groups to promote, organize, and diffuse protests online, as well as the organizational and structural changes of the movements fostered by web interactivity. 4
This is even truer for “radical” actors, who are able to use the Internet as an alternative arena in which to express their views. Indeed, as observed by Back et al., 5 more than a decade ago in their study on neo-fascist web subcultures, the Internet “possesses the potential to offer this small, geographically dispersed movement a means to communicate, develop a sense of common purpose, and create a virtual home symbolically.” This is the new face of politics and political expression, also for “the distinct” and “until now ignored” “category of online supporters of [right-wing] groups” 6 and the Internet will, therefore, increasingly become an object of interest and research for social scientists who want to understand these (new) political movements. 7
In what ways and how frequently do right-wing organizations use the Internet for their online political activism? And for what specifi c functions? Furthermore, who are the right-wing groups most active in the cybersphere? And what are the opportunities and the challenges provided by new technology for these organizations?