Populists or Influencers? The Use of Facebook Videos by Populist Leaders
Populist leaders use social media as a primary tool for cultivating direct relationships with “the people.” Their online activity bears similarities with that of social media influencers; however, the extent of this similarity has not been discussed in-depth. In this article, we explore this affinity, performing ethnographic content analysis on a set of Facebook videos published by 3 Southern European populist leaders—Matteo Salvini (Lega, Italy), Luigi Di Maio (Five Star Movement, M5S, Italy), and Pablo Iglesias (Podemos, Spain)—during the general election campaigns of 2016 and 2018 and after assumption of public office. We argue that the communication styles of these populist leaders mimic those of social media influencers according to 4 main dimensions: “hybrid” visibility labor, authenticity, algorithm gaming, and transformation of digital publics into communities characterized by a sense of we-ness.