Britain First Utilizes Social Media to Spread Alt-Right Ideas
By: Jenny Braverman
When searching for Official Britain First on Facebook, an online group largely known for posting radical political propaganda, one expects to pull up a page full of ugly comments against Muslims and other racial minority groups, ideas about potential rallies planning to march in order to revoke women’s rights and multiple large party figures using harsh political rhetoric. The website that comes up is the polar opposite. The profile picture on this site entitled “Goodbye Britain First” contains inspiring, positive phrases such as “Respect your Elders”, “Wear Sunscreen” and “Be Kind to your Knees.” The official Facebook page of Britain First is now deceased. Although this particular website has been shut down, it represents how increasingly, nationalist groups are using social media sites such as Facebook as a main way of connecting their supporters, spreading ideas and creating attention.
As of March 14, 2018, Facebook has removed the page belonging to the Alt Right group Britain First, which has over two million followers. While the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, meaning that Facebook has no right to censor opinions differing from the mainstream, the content posted on the social media page was not only offensive, but could also be considered a hate crime. Facebook’s official announcement stated that it broke their community standards. It continued, “people can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are." Previously in December, Twitter suspended multiple accounts linked to the group. This received national attention as Trump retweeted a video originally posted by one of the group’s leaders Jayda Fransen.
Britain First is a fascist group centralized in England. It was formed in 2011 and is against immigration, easy access to abortion, and other left leaning ideologies the religiously devout reject. They are radically pro-British and believe in promoting a country with racial and religious homogeneity.
Most experts say that the priority of this group is to cause a scene online rather than have their ideas directly represented in parliament. While they do not have one member in the British legislature and they hardly ever campaign for office (only 56 people voted for Fransen when she ran), Britain First’s online support on Facebook greatly surpasses the Labour Party (with one million likes) and the Conservative Party (with 650,000 likes). The group receives donations from thousands of far right individuals and interest groups and puts that money towards online propaganda, advertisements, and videos. In one of their posts, they praised a terrorist attack against a mosque in London. Other posts include memes, a person smashing the statue of a Virgin Mary, puppies sitting by union flags, and people armed with guns next to political slogans. Experts debate whether or not the supporters truly believe in heinous acts like that or they simply want to stir trouble.
Although the leaders of the group were arrested during a rally just hours before the Anti-Muslim video clip was retweeted, their ideas and values were spread to 44 million of Trump’s followers within seconds. The online base’s ability to gain support from the president of one of the most advanced countries in the world shows how easy it is for groups such as these to gain momentum from many different people in various locations to form an army of followers. This retweet also gave the drive credibility and a sense of international support that would have been almost unattainable without the internet. In a country such as the United Kingdom, where the political base of these far-right ideologies is highly spread out and disconnected, new technology (especially the internet) is used in order to quickly spread messages and gain momentum with other people. Messages are easily shareable and cause significant publicity (both good and bad).
Liking, posting, and retweeting are the new forms of word of mouth. They are inexpensive and reach large audiences. One of the reasons why social media is such a crucial part of the spread of these alt-right ideas is that it reaches the politically unengaged. In modern times, people do not have to leave the comfort of their homes to hear political speeches and support parties. The people that normally would not show their political activism through the polls have a new medium of promoting their ideas. During Britain First’s rallies, the head count is no more than a couple of hundred people, and the YouTube videos that leaders produce do not have a large enough viewership to make a significant impact. Britain First and groups like it rely on the heart of their base to actively spread their messages and support their ideas through social media.