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  • 1.
    Askanius, Tina
    et al.
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3). Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), Rethinking Democracy (REDEM).
    Haselbacher, Miriam
    Austrian Academy of Sciences.
    Reeger, Ursula
    Austrian Academy of Sciences.
    Stoencheva, Julietta
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3).
    Visualisation report of emerging extremist narratives across Europe2024Report (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    The purpose of this report is to provide a comprehensive overview of existing knowledge on contemporary extremist narratives circulating online in three countries across Europe; Austria, Bulgaria and Sweden. To achieve this, the report draws on a review of an extensive body of previous research and secondary data sources, pursuing two primary objectives: firstly, it maps what kind of extremist narratives are on offer across Europe today, and second, it identifies where across the digital mainstream, these are currently in circulation.

    Upon reviewing the available evidence, two key topics emerge as central to the proliferation of extremist narratives in Europe. First, extremist narratives continue to predominantly emerge around anti-migration ideas and sentiments. Contemporary anti-immigration narratives echo familiar themes and long-standing ideas that European societies are collapsing under the weight of enforced multiculturalism and/or that European/white populations are being replaced by immigrant communities and in particular Muslim “invaders”.  Such anti-immigration narratives, which continue to take on new forms and tap into shifting conspiratorial beliefs and falsehoods, circulate openly today and in mainstream media.

    Second, the Covid19 pandemic gave rise to a host of anti-establishment narratives some of which veered towards illiberal and anti-democratic ideas and behaviours. These narratives peddled widely circulated conspiracy theories suggesting that a malevolent global elite exploited or orchestrated the pandemic to dismantle European societies, infringe upon civil liberties and harm populations through the vaccination programs.  Anti-establishment narratives sparked during the pandemic continue to circulate and take on new forms in online spaces today.

    Beyond the key topics outlined by OppAttune - vaccination, migration, silent narratives and protectionism - this report provides evidence that climate change and gender are emerging as key topics around which new extremist narratives and conspiracy theories tend to gravitate in Europe today.

    In its efforts to identify the key online spaces in which extremist narratives occur, the report finds that these move across a wide range of online spaces ranging from well-known global social media platforms to more fringe and country-specific sites operating at the margins of the digital mainstream. These range from alternative news sites, websites and blogs to fringe video sharing platforms such as Rumble, BitChute, Odysee; the online messaging services Telegram, Discord and Viber; discussion forums like Reddit and mainstream social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram. Some of the online platforms identified are specific to the national contexts. In the Swedish landscape of online media discussion forums Flashback Forum and Familjeliv along with SwebbTube emerge as prominent conduits for extremist narratives and divisive discourse. Specific to the context of Bulgaria are Spodeli, Kaldata, Dir and BG-Mamma, all of which are online forums affording anonymous and relatively unmoderated discussions.

    In addition, focusing on the transnational and multi-language forum Reddit, the report provides preliminary analytical insights into the dynamics of online discussions on migration among ordinary citizens in the three countries. These empirical insights suggest that extremist narratives proliferate across the three subreddits and provide ample evidence of the increasing penetration of exclusionary and stigmatising discourse into the digital mainstream. 

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  • 2.
    Askanius, Tina
    et al.
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3). Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), Rethinking Democracy (REDEM).
    Stoencheva, Julietta
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3).
    Modani, Hernan
    Umeå universitet; Stockholms universitet.
    The Alternative Influence Network (AIN) of the Swedish far-right on YouTube: a network analysis2022In: Influerarnas marknad, konsumtionskulturen, samhället och juridiken​, Lund, 2022Conference paper (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    Extended abstract

    This paper explores the influencer practices of an online network of individuals, extra-parliamentary groups, and alternative media on the far-right, promoting content ranging from mainstream conservatism and ethnopluralism all the way to overtly white supremacist ideas. These actors vary in their beliefs and values on the far-right spectrum, but unite in their opposition to feminism, social justice, left-wing politics and mainstream media creating a collaborative ecosystem around these issues that Lewis (2020) dubs the “alternative influence network.” This study identifies central nodes in and maps the composition of the alternative influence network (AIN) on YouTube distinct to the context of Sweden. We ask: How are YouTube channels networked to form an AIN connecting the extra-parliamentarian far-right in Sweden? To what extent does the extra-parliamentarian far-right in Sweden connect across individual influencers, groups/organisations and alternative far-right news media?  How do actors in the network engage in influencers practices combining commercial (self-)branding strategies, marketing and monetization schemes with political propaganda techniques?   

    The network analysis is based on a sample of YouTube channels which includes a combination of far-right groups (9), individual far-right influencers (32), and hyper-partisan/far-right alternative news media (11). In a first analytical step, drawing on the results of a network analysis of videos (n=8531), we show how these actors are connected by an interlocking series of connective practices including guest appearances on each other’s YouTube channels as well as a variety of referencing- and hyperlinking practices. We then take a qualitative case study approach to examine the influencer practices of central nodes in the network to provide an in-depth examination of the various ways political influencers on the far-right intersperse business strategies with political propagation techniques.  

    The analysis demonstrates how, much like online influencers in any other field, these actors conform to the market logics of attentional economy of the platform society (Van Djick Poell and de Waahl 2018). We may understand these “Political influencers” as content creators repurposing influencer marketing techniques to impart ideological ideas to their audiences (Lewis 2018). Similar to other creators aiming to reach influencer status in the digital sphere, they attempt to self-brand as micro celebrities and build an online following, encouraging listeners to subscribe to their channels, like their content, and engage with it and the creators via the comment field. Creating deeply intimate connections with their followers enables AIN actors to promote far right ideas and conspiracy theories, in ways very similar to how a fashion influencer will promote their clothing style or brand. To boost engagement, AIN actors address timely and controversial events from a unique angle – in their case, often with a shocking/conspiratorial element and strategic use of controversy. This distinctiveness in approach is arguably what attracts their increasingly large follower base, in addition to strategically mixing in misinformation and disinformation which are found to engage with their novelty element, and hence possess a larger spreadability potential than factual information (Vosoughi et al. 2018). However, due to the added challenge of being forced to “dance around” YouTube policies and carefully toe the lines of legality and the platform’s Community Guidelines, AIN creators are required to be creative in their linking and reference practices if they want to stay on the platform.

    A variety of different marketing and promotion techniques are at work just as the network of channels provide a window onto the broader commercial market of far-right merchandise in Sweden today. Although mostly unaffiliated with formal groups, actors in the so called “Swedish YouTube family” often stream wearing different forms of merchandise such as caps with AfS’ logo, t-shirts from Medborgerlig Samling or DFS and other attires produced and sold by actors on the extra parliamentarian far-right in Sweden today. Some channel hosts offer others in the network the opportunity to promote their products, events or news (e.g., on upcoming protests) in return for a fee. Others again use their channels as a platform for advertising specific products - anything from self-defense courses and pepper spray to protein powder and fruit juice – and promote brands or companies that either sponsor the channel or that the actors themselves are directly involved in.   

  • 3.
    Askanius, Tina
    et al.
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3). Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), Rethinking Democracy (REDEM).
    Stoencheva, Jullietta
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3).
    On memes and mugs: Everyday extremism in the (digital) mainstream2024In: The Psychologist, Vol. MayArticle in journal (Other (popular science, discussion, etc.))
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  • 4.
    Stoencheva, Jullietta
    Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), School of Arts and Communication (K3).
    The Manosphere Travels East: Constructing Misogynist Social Identities On a Bulgarian Online Platform2022Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 80 credits / 120 HE creditsStudent thesis
    Abstract [en]

    Following a series of terrorist attacks, online communities for men built around misogyny and resistance to feminist values – commonly known as the manosphere – have recently become subject of scholarly attention. In research, the manosphere is usually explored as a phenomenon in the Western world, often described as a backlash movement in countries where gender equality is most progressive. This thesis seeks to widen the geographical borders of manosphere research by exploring discursive articulations of tropes related to the international manosphere on an open-access Bulgarian online Q&A platform. By choosing this platform as a case study, this project aims to fill a knowledge gap by exploring whether discourses fundamental to international, largely English-language communities of the manosphere are found relevant on a mainstream online space in an Eastern European, Balkan country like Bulgaria, and what (if any) additional locally specific tropes emerge in this context. Drawing on a discourse-historical approach to critical discourse analysis informed by social identity theory, the study seeks to unpack how these tropes serve the practice of online social identity construction, with a focus on whether the social identities that emerge could be classified as potentially extremist. The research problem is approached both by analyzing discursive elements in a purposeful sample of user comments, and by keeping a focus on the affordances of the online platform as a space where these discourses are co-produced and disseminated.

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