Populism, immigration, and the crisis of Fake News in Contemporary Democracies

It is consensual in our contemporary political studies that 
moral panic became central in the growth of populist and radical parties’ social alignment. This moral panic was born during the social disrupture of the 1960s. Minor groups and moral changes generated alarm in the majority groups, which started to look into them as a threat to the order and dominant values. In consequence, nationalist right-wing movements gained importance and space to operate. More than inner diversity, the struggle against immigration plays a vital role in their ideology and narratives. Border protection, criminality, terrorism, the situation of women’s rights, and the critics of multiculturalism became the vectors for their struggle to protect the culture and European identities since the 1970s. 

Consequently, restricting immigration has been critical for radical right-wing movements. However, according to several reports, the success of anti-immigration politics was fewer due to the fact the States rarely can establish or determine the dynamics of migrations or the labor needs and also faces illegal chains and schemes. 

More than labor issues, however, the desire to protect national identities with a protectionist cultural horizon generates support for populist parties. According to the European Social Survey on Right-Wing, Visegrad countries, and Portugal have higher cultural fears. In consequence, the debate on immigration is a code for cultural threat since ‘culture’ is considered static rather than a dynamic and plastic reality based on negotiations and hybrid events. 

Thereby, we are now living in a tension between the legal and political will to protect minorities – in the frame of plural and liberal democracy and the rule of law – and the desire to reinforce the will of the majority and the national identities with its cultural basis. 

Fake news as propaganda 

It is now claimed and considerably consensual that pro-Russian propaganda is linked to migration-related fake news growth. There is a narrative that connects immigration to (a) terrorism, (b) criminality growth, and (c) the consequent decline of the Western world. The Kremlin’s cultural war against the West’s multicultural paradigm demands the spread of an idea of multiculturalism as the decline of western civilization to reinforce the narrative of the Great Mother Russia of Christian values. This idea of western cultural winter acts symbolically as an alarm and a tool to strengthen the strength and vitality of Russian civilization. The presence of Russian media or the support of radical right parties is crucial in spreading a moral panic against the refugees and migration, and thus against European Union. 

The German case: the AfD and anti-immigration fake news

The 2015 refugees crisis in German was a critical moment for the growth and establishment of the radical right party AfD. Circa 1 million refugees crossed the borders of Germany. The need to properly integrate them into german society challenged German authorities. It gave room for the far-right AfD party and its anti-immigration and anti-Islamic rhetoric, becoming the 3rd major party in the german 2017 elections. This election was gained by exploiting security and cultural fear via the massive spread of fake news and conspiracy theories, especially on social media. Fake news on crimes committed by refugees, on special treatment for refugees vis-à-vis the native germans, and the theory of the great replacement (which is associated with the idea that the globalist elites are conspiring to create a multicultural Germany) gained significant relevance, creating panic among the germans and suspicion against democratic institutions – the primary purpose of fake news strategy.
However, most crimes committed by immigrants are shoplifting and mostly non-violent crimes, rather than sexual crimes, fake news in Germany and Sweden. Also, crimes are more likely to be reported if committed by outgroup members.


There is an ongoing debate on possible solutions to stop the spread of fake news. However, this complex issue deals with cultural and geographical challenges. One of the evident challenges is free speech as a constitutional and fundamental right. The balance between both is crucial since it also affects the safety of communities and democracy. The second obstacle to combating fake news is the limited resources available; Fact-checking and verifying information requires time, money, and resources that small media may not possess and is not readily available to ordinary citizens. Another significant problem is the need for more trust in media and institutions; people consuming fake news and conspiracy theories against the state hardly accept fact-checking, primarily due to the political polarization, which involves them in a cultural and spiritual war.
Thus, stopping the spread of fake news demands increased transparency on sources, reinforcement of the fact-checking tools, encourage responsible sharing, mainly in social media (prompts that remind the user to verify the accuracy of the information), collaboration between media, social media, and institutions, legal actions to media and individuals for a permanent share of fake news, and invest in the education system, where it is possible to develop a critical spirit and the ability to distinguish between credible and fake news sources.

Citação recomendada: João Ferreira Dias, “Populism, immigration, and the crisis of Fake News in Contemporary Democracies,” in O Estado da Teoria, acedido a Junho 22, disponível em < https://joaoferreiradias.net/blog/?p=6039>.



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