A Buzzfeed-like Site For The Radical Right In Germany Poses New Challenges
Sophie Schmalenberger is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Global Studies at Aarhus University (Denmark) and a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).
Saturated colors, an abundance of stock images, big fonts, and sensationalist language: What sounds like a mix of a tabloid newspaper and a contemporary influencer’s Instagram profile is indeed the front page of the far-right online platform FlinkFeed (previously Fritzfeed). The website was launched in April 2020 and features blog posts that are reminiscent of the popular news and entertainment website Buzzfeed.com in style, but it contains far-right messages.
‘New Right’ is a term for contemporary far-right actors in Germany (and elsewhere) that distance themselves from National Socialism. Instead, they frame their white supremacist positions in ethno-cultural essentialist terms and take their core ideological elements from the Weimar Republic’s Conservative Revolution. These actors understand themselves as an intellectual movement, are organized in networks, and work towards the meta-political aim of challenging and eventually overcoming the liberal-democratic order through a gradual cultural counter-revolution.
Here, they do not (primarily) engage in violent action but have adopted various forms of on- and offline activism that re-produce the central ideological element of the New Right, the narrative of a ‘Great Replacement’ of white Europeans by racialized ‘non-European’ migrants. In course of a successive de-platforming over the last years, actors associated with the Identarian Movement (IB), a major New Right actor and classified as right-wing extremists by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution were banned from platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Duly, a distinctive part of the New Right has been forced to retreat to less regulated but also less popular platforms such as Telegram and Bitchute.
Against this background, FlinkFeed can be understood as a new attempt to mainstream New Right ideas and positions that does not rely on building up wide-reaching accounts on established social media platforms but is focused on the production of far-right content that can be shared via social networks and instant messaging services. To that end, FlinkFeed adopts new forms of content presentation, most prominently so-called ‘listicles’, that make far-right content not only shareable but easily accessible and consumable as they disguise extremist content in an entertaining form.
The aim here is not only the entertainment of New Right peers but indeed to reach new and primarily young audiences and, as Martin Sellner, head of the Austrian IB explains, to “deeply penetrate the smartphones and feeds and WhatsApp chats of young people” (quoted in a report by netzpolitik.org).
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The full spectrum of New Right ideology
When browsing through the abundance of listicles and other articles published on FlinkFeed, it does not take long to notice from what ideological direction the wind is blowing. Indeed, the content presented here has not only been evaluated as partly right-wing extremist by the North Rhine Westphalian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, but also covers various aspects of New Right ideology.
To begin with, racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic framings and stereotypes, white supremacist positions as well as the trivializations of racism or complaints about ‘anti-white racism’ are inherent to the contents presented on FlinkFeed but not the most prominent feature. Rather, the contributions on FlinkFeed serve the purpose of simultaneously identifying, demonizing, and ridiculing political and ideological enemies while creating a positive image of the New Right. Here, attributing intellectual inferiority, irrationality, hubris, and extremism to the other does not only de-legitimize their positions but establishes the New Right as intellectually superior and thus their cultural and political agenda as legitimate.
One does not need to spend a lot of time on FlinkFeed to get a clear idea of who is constructed as the political enemy: An abundance of posts establishes a broad group of actors portrayed as a diffused political left as a major opponent of the New Right. This political left includes most prominently established German parties with a particular focus on the Green Party and Social Democrats, the German government, ‘mainstream’ media outlets as well as the ‘Antifa’ as a generalizing term for the extra-parliamentary left.
Here, listicles like “8 examples of the government violating the constitution”; “These 7 Antifa attacks are just the top of the iceberg”; “Lefties and Nazism: 10 things they have in common” or those featuring elaborations on how the ‘the Greens’ and ‘mainstream media’ lie and manipulate, reproduce the image of an illegitimate, dangerous and extremist political opponent.
Moreover, a liberal left mainstream consisting of alleged “do-gooders” (“Gutmenschen”) ´, social and racial justice, feminist as well as LGTBQI+ activists, and leftist intellectuals also emerge as ideological enemy on FlinkFeed. Here, a particular focus lies on attacking, ridiculing, and delegitimizing LGTBQI+ rights advocates as well as more recently the Black Lives Matter movement. Pseudo-scientific articles labeling ‘do-gooders’ as narcissistic psychopaths, stories portraying Gender Studies as unscientific or be trans-gender as identity forced upon children or listicles like and “10 Monuments you should see before lefties tear them down” present the ideological other as irrational, intellectually inferior, and threatening.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that FlinkFeed aims to reestablish traditional gender roles as the ideal. Here, posts promoting 1950s (hair and beard) styles and strictly male connotated hobbies and activities or introducing a ‘famous pick-up artist’ explaining why women allegedly prefer ‘confident men’ to feminists use a mix of irony and guide-book rhetoric to reproduce a hyper-conservative idea of masculinity.
In addition, posts promoting a clear anti-abortion stance are a regular feature on FlinkFeed. They provide the reader with “10 creative answers to typical pro-choice arguments” or confront them with ‘shocking’ instruments used for abortions, thus aiming to frame women claiming their right to decide over their own body and life as intellectually under-developed, inhumane, and immoral.
Last but not least, articles that aim to establish German culture and traditionalism as something desirable and precious are characteristic of FlinkFeed. Here, listicles presenting “9 quotes of great German thinkers that would be considered as hate speech today” appropriate historical figures to legitimize New Right positions. Together with “11 facts about the victory column that every patriot should know”, and other recommendations on how to remember the German past, these posts work towards a historical revisionist agenda that aims to re-establish a sense of greatness and pride towards the past and present German nation.
In addition, listing German wonders of nature or German castles that look like they’re ‘from a Disney movie’ use nature photography and pop-culture to re-produce the myth of Germany and ethno-cultural community, constructing today’s nation as intertwined with its homeland, historic buildings, and the people that inhabited both. This is supplemented by listicles collecting “The 14 funniest names for beer only Germans can come up with” or encouraging the reader to use German alternatives instead of (English) loanwords. These FlinkFeed contributions use irony and humor to strategically turn seemingly banal everyday (drinking or linguistic) practices into a marker of cultural distinctiveness and superiority, thus reproducing the idea of a unique and precious German culture.
An interface between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary New Right
While listicles are frequently used to present far-right ideological content, FlinkFeed does not feature a list of its authors or editors. Nevertheless, the news platform netzpolitik.org reports that its ties to other New Right actors are not only ideological: Here, especially the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) sticks out. While Germany’s radical right populist party officially denies any connections to the website, several of the authors writing for FlinkFeed have private and professional connections to the AfD.
In particular, Christian Schäler, who is named as CEO in the FlinkFeed imprint, has personal connections to the North Rhine-Westphalian AfD-MP Roger Beckamp and indeed works for the AfD fraction in the North-Rhine Westphalian regional parliament. Moreover, the content shared via FlinkFeed’s Social Media accounts is regularly liked and commented on by users that in their profile descriptions identify themselves as member of the AfD or the AfD’s youth organization ‘Junge Alternative’, show their allegiance to the AfD, e.g. through a blue heart, or signal their belonging to the German New Right with beer and pretzel emojis, words like “patriot” or the Hashtag #DefendEurope.
In addition, FritzFeed author Tim Beuter verifiably participated in several activist interventions of the IB. FlinkFeed can thus be considered as a project that does not only connect, but originates from the interface between the parliamentary and the broader, extra-parliamentary German New Right.
Understanding new styles and formats of far-right propaganda
It is difficult to estimate the impact of FlinkFeed, particularly regarding the question of whether it actually manages to introduce youngsters to New Right ideological content. So far, FlinkFeed’s Social Media profiles (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram) have a relatively moderate number of followers and seem to function as unidirectional means of distributing the latest content posted on the website, with a limited number of likes, shares, and interactions between FlinkFeed and other users.
This suggests that the far-right Buzzfeed has not (yet) gone as viral as its creators are likely to have hoped for. Nevertheless, FlinkFeed, with its aim to target and engage young audiences, is reconfirming what Cynthia Miller-Idriss has pointed out in her latest book Hate in the Home Land: The questions where the far-right is recruiting and in particular how far-right messages are ‘slipping’ into young people’s everyday lives and (virtual) environments need scholarly attention.
Here, I would add that the case of FlinkFeed shows that also a more advanced understanding of changing styles and formats of far-right propaganda is needed: It is a reminder that besides clearly identifiable and classifiable right-wing extremist symbols, images and rhetoric – the Black Sun, Pepe the Frog or explicit references to the ‘Great Replacement’ narrative – it is also seemingly ‘harmless’ and familiar stylistic elements we encounter on an everyday level – top-10 lists, emojis, and stock photos – that can be re-appropriated in service of a dangerous far-right worldview.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.