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Until two weeks ago the UK political party with the biggest Facebook following was Britain First. Britain First are, to put it bluntly, a tiny political sect. At present they have no elected representatives at any level in the UK. When its leader, Paul Golding, stood in the 2016 London Mayoral election he got just 1.2% of the vote. When Britain First holds street demonstrations, as it does on a regular basis, they rarely attract more than a couple of hundred people. And yet this electorally insignificant force was able to gain a Facebook following of over two million, roughly double that of the Labour Party, until Facebook deleted their account on 14 March. They did this by behaving like a media organisation, or be it an extremely right-wing one, rather than a political party. On its Facebook page the group posted news stories, primarily from external sources, about subjects like immigration, Brexit and Islam. Add on a provocative caption and it found a relatively simple news story could go viral. I start this piece with Britain First for a reason. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the growth of an “alt-left” pro-Corbyn media, with publications like The Canary, Novara Media and Evolve Politics. Increasingly however I think the same thing is happening on the hard-right, and social media is leading the charge. Here’s a brief summary of the hard-right media groups which have begun operating in the UK in the past few years:
The best known hard-right media publication in the world right now, thanks to the role it played in getting Trump elected, is surely Breitbart. Under former Chief Executive Steve Bannon, whose angry populism carried him all the way to the White House, the site has achieved a level of infamy matched by few others. Breitbart launched a UK branch, titled “Breitbart London”, in February 2014. Currently edited by former UKIP staffer and leadership candidate Raheem Kassam it has amassed 67,000 Facebook followers and has a lively (though bigoted) comments section. Politically Breitbart London is very close to UKIP, and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage frequently writes for the site.
Westmonster launched in early 2017 as a voice of the Eurosceptic “anti-establishment” hard-right. Owned by former UKIP donor Arron Banks the site is built on a foundation of Brexit and immigration related content, and has close links to UKIP. Banks was the man who bankrolled Leave.EU, the unofficial second Brexit campaign fronted by Nigel Farage whose “Breaking Point” posters caused so much controversy during the referendum campaign. Whilst Westmonster’s social media presence is small the site feeds off the social media strength of Leave.EU, which is still operational and heavily promotes Westmonster content. Leave.EU has nearly 900,000 Facebook likes and 167,000 Twitter followers, versus just under 20,000 and 40,000 respectively for Westmonster itself.
A Canadian media company which expanded to the UK in early 2017, Rebel Media is probably the most right-wing of the new alt-right media companies (and that’s saying something). Initially its UK operation was fronted by, and largely revolved around, former EDL leader and anti-Islam campaigner Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Lennon). Robinson has become something of a one-man “alternative media” brand on the radical right, with nearly 700,000 Facebook likes on his personal page and 413,000 Twitter followers. He recently split from Rebel Media, and has been replaced as its primary UK based figure by former Apprentice candidate Katie Hopkins, after both The Sun and The Daily Mail decided to stop publishing her work.
What’s interesting about all these new alt-right media outlets operating in the UK is that, like their alt-left counterparts, they are incredibly social media savvy. Whilst they operate largely under the radar of those who rely on traditional publications, and have no broadcast presence, they have established a large and growing following via their promotion of nativist and nationalist politics. To a far greater extent than more established publications they rely on social media for traffic and as the primary source of growth.
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