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The far right and false imagery

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Social media is undeniably an ever-growing industry, with people using it all over the world.

Having expanded in popularity since the days of sharing music on MySpace and sharing the love on Bebo, social media has become a place for sharing almost anything, with access to online giants such as Facebook and Twitter.

With news organisations moving away from the papers and towards the web, politics has become a popular subject to share online; but not everybody shares it in the most trustworthy way.

Social media has made it easier for small political organisations to spread their ideology and find likeminded people to join their movement. But with this open-platform for ideology, shared in real-time, the line between fact and fiction is being blurred to make a point.

Arguably the most prevalent at this are far-right groups.

The biggest in the UK are Britain First, who have more than 1.2 million followers on Facebook – which is more than double the amount of the Conservative party.

With such a large audience, they have managed to grab the attention of many with their anti-Islamist propaganda and passion for patriotism. They have used the power of imagery to spread their message and draw their followers in. But not all their imagery is what it seems.

Britain First have used everything from animal rights, to respect for our troops to lure people into their web of propaganda. Once they have the audience they use these techniques of half-truth to spread their anti-Islam agenda.

One memorable photo that exposed Britain First’s misuse of imagery, was the doctored picture of Dawud Walid, a former Navy veteran turned human rights activist, who was shown holding a sign which said “boycott bigotry” and with the added text “and kill all non-Muslims”.

They clearly use the doctoring of a powerful image to forward their views. With these groups the lie is more powerful than the truth.

But Britain First are not the only group to do this.

Most recently images of TOWIE star, Maria Fowler, and the model and former WAG, Danielle Lloyd, who are pictured bloodied and distressed after being involved in two separate altercations.

These images were shared with the hashtag #Rapefugees and were alleged to be photos of victims of sexual assault in Cologne on New Year’s Eve – of which neither of them were.

These images were shortly taken down after they were exposed as being used falsely with the sole intention of drumming up hate.

But it was not one of the more well-known and established groups, like Britain First and Pegida, who shared these images, but a much smaller online page called North West Infidels Fightback 31, who have only got six followers on Facebook.

So what is the purpose and power of sharing these image-driven myths? Are they effective in influencing social media users who were not originally of that opinion, or does it just strengthen the opinions of social media users who originally were?

Dr Paul Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Social Media and Digital Society at the University of Sheffield, said: “It should be remembered that these images were shared under hashtags such as #Rapefugees, which were more likely to attract the attention of those users who either strongly agreed or disagreed with the negative stereotypes of refugees perpetuated by far-right, fascist groups.”

“If anything, the sharing of these images arguably reinforced the views of those on both sides of the debate over the refugee crisis.”

It is clear, that in a time of austerity and fear, there is a rise in popularity for far-right nationalist groups as people look for answers and someone to blame - no more so than on social media.

The problem of false online-propaganda is only part of a wider problem that puts the multi-culturism and security of Europe under threat.

Jo Bates, Lecturer in Information Politics and Policy at the University of Sheffield, said: “Rather than focusing on the damage caused by specific images, my sense is that we need to focus on the bigger picture - Who do these images appeal to and why? Why do people feel so vulnerable that they fear difference and flux? If we can address that underlying anxiety, I think it will be easier to build a genuinely multicultural Europe.”

North West Infidels Fightback 31 were unavailable for comment.

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