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Keep on your toes, Americans! Toxic alt-right ideas and fake news are spreading online via… irony?

Skull and crossbones sign symbol for poison and toxicity

A recent study has shown that irony is increasingly being used to spread toxic ideas and fake news online. Researchers say the use of irony is growing in contemporary politics and radical online communities because it helps people to make sense of and navigate major political and economic changes. Ideas, jokes, memes, and ironic images are becoming a driving force for new social movements and are now closely linked to the rise of the alt-right.

The new study suggests that studying irony can help to understand how recent influential political campaigns, such as the Brexit campaign, are held together despite the involvement of people from different backgrounds or ideologies. It further notes that irony can help explain how political movements are mobilized – it has the power to mobilize people and get them to commit to ideas that are emergent, unclear, ambivalent, fraught, or contradictory.

Irony generates intensity and energy that can play a significant role in animating people’s beliefs – transforming them from propositions to convictions, investing them with a sense of possibility, and compelling people to act.

The researchers conducted a study examining the use of irony across various groups. These groups include Black American abolitionist literature, contemporary BlackLivesMatter activism in Ghana, the so-called alt-right, the veneration of the Greek socialist party PASOK, and the millenarian Boogaloo Bois.

Dr. Susannah Crockford from the University of Exeter explained:

“Many campaigners, activists, and political leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to grasp how they might act effectively and to imagine forms of social transformation that do not demand total upheaval. Irony enables people to critique the crippling political and economic restructuring of their worlds, to navigate an uncertain present, and to reorient toward the future.

The power of irony lies in its ability to enable individuals to address political issues and uphold certain values, even in the midst of confusion and uncertainty. It provides a way to unite people with similar beliefs and align them toward a common goal.

Irony also contains the potential for gathering incipient collectives, oriented not toward clear-cut convictions but toward sub-certainties that offer speculative routes forward, in a world in tumult.

Dr. Farhan Samanani from University College London, said:

“By playing with incongruity between text and subtext, or between points of view, irony provides new ways of making meaning and make sense of a fraught, contradictory world. Irony can provoke strong feelings, ranging from laughter, to disorientation, to the camaraderie that comes from being in on the joke, particularly among political movements that have significantly taken shape online.”

Being part of community doesn’t necessarily mean believing in any particular ideology. The real joy of participation lies in being a part of a thriving language community that constantly evolves through the creation of new terms and expressions.

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Skull and crossbones sign symbol for poison and toxicity via Wikimedia Commons by with usage type - Public Domain. This image of simple geometry is ineligible for copyright.

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Skull and crossbones sign symbol for poison and toxicity via Wikimedia Commons by with usage type - Public Domain. This image of simple geometry is ineligible for copyright.


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