Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 27, Issue 3–6, pp 293–326 | Cite as

Speaking their Mind: Populist Style and Antagonistic Messaging in the Tweets of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders

  • A’ndre GonawelaEmail author
  • Joyojeet Pal
  • Udit Thawani
  • Elmer van der Vlugt
  • Wim Out
  • Priyank Chandra


The authors in this study examined the function and public reception of critical tweeting in online campaigns of four nationalist populist politicians during major national election campaigns. Using a mix of qualitative coding and case study inductive methods, we analyzed the tweets of Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Geert Wilders before the 2014 Indian general elections, the 2016 UK Brexit referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and the 2017 Dutch general election, respectively. Our data show that Trump is a consistent outlier in terms of using critical language on Twitter when compared to Wilders, Farage, and Modi, but that all four leaders show significant investment in various forms of antagonistic messaging including personal insults, sarcasm, and labeling, and that these are rewarded online by higher retweet rates. Building on the work of Murray Edelman and his notion of a political spectacle, we examined Twitter as a performative space for critical rhetoric within the frame of nationalist politics. We found that cultural and political differences among the four settings also impact how each politician employs these tactics. Our work proposes that studies of social media spaces need to bring normative questions into traditional notions of collaboration. As we show here, political actors may benefit from in-group coalescence around antagonistic messaging, which while serving as a call to arms for online collaboration for those ideologically aligned, may on a societal level lead to greater polarization.


Twitter Populism Politics Social media Political spectacle Political attack Political communication 



The authors would like to acknowledge useful comments and contributions by Tanya Madhani, Vaishnav Kameswaran, Maximillian Alvarez, Shraddha Jain, and Verushka Patel during various iterations of this research.


  1. @geertwilderspvv. (2016a). Geert Wilders on Twitter: '#2017in3words No More Islam.' Accessed 27 April 2017.
  2. @geertwilderspvv. (2016b). Geert wilders on twitter: 'They hate and kill us. And nobody protects us. Our leaders betray us. We need a political revolution. And defend our people. #BerlinAttack.' Accessed 27 April 2017.
  3. @geertwilderspvv. (2016c) Geert wilders on twitter: ‘Vote the europhile Brussels-bender Rutte away on march 15! #NetherlandsOursAgain #VotePVV.’ Accessed 27 April 2017.Google Scholar
  4. @geertwilderspvv. (2017a). Geert Wilders on Twitter: ‘Can’t those hate imams piss off together with Denk for the sake of Allah to some islamic country?’ Accessed 27 April 2017.Google Scholar
  5. @geertwilderspvv. (2017b). Geert Wilders on Twitter: 'Dictatuur66 #antidemocraten' Accessed 27 April 2017.
  6. @geertwilderspvv. (2017c). Geert Wilders on Twitter: 'The only Islamofascists here are the Turkish dictator @RT_Erdogan and yourself @MevlutCavusoglu' Accessed 27 April 2017.
  7. @narendramodi. (2014a). Narendra Modi on Twitter: ‘Our aim is “Apradh Mukt Rajneeti”. We need to end the atmosphere of criminalisation of politics, that was started & encouraged by Congress’. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  8. @narendramodi. (2014b). Narendra Modi on Twitter: ‘Samajwadi Party has become Samaj Virodhi Party! Electricity, law & order situation is poor & women are unsafe in Uttar Pradesh’. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  9. @narendramodi. (2014c). Narendra Modi on Twitter: ‘Shahzada should tell us about R(haul), S(onia), V(adra), P(riyanka) model. This RSVP model has looted India‘. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  10. @Nigel_Farage. (2016a). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘Failed Euro project has had a devastating impact on lives of citizens across Europe who have suffered at the hands of the EU nationalists’. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  11. @Nigel_Farage. (2016b). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘Given President Obama admires EU so much, surprised he hasn’t argued for open borders with Mexico or for foreign courts to run US affairs...’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  12. @Nigel_Farage. (2016c). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘It appears the crushing of Greek democracy and corporatist TTIP have won @jeremycorbyn over on the EU’. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  13. @Nigel_Farage. (2016d). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘Just returned government’s booklet of EU lies to Number 10 with @prwhittle & @DianeJamesMEP. Returning to sender!‘. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  14. @Nigel_Farage. (2016e). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘Last time we followed foreign policy advice from a US President was when we went to war in Iraq. We should be wary.’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  15. @Nigel_Farage. (2016f). Nigel Farage on Twitter: ‘Now appears EU won’t allow Mr. Osborne to scrap tampon tax. Humiliating that UK has to seek permission from EU.‘. Accessed 27 April 2017.
  16. @realDonaldTrump. (2016a). Donald J. Trump on Twitter: ‘A country that Crooked Hillary says has funded ISIS also gave Wild Bill $1 million for his birthday? SO CORRUPT!’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  17. @realDonaldTrump. (2016b). Donald J. Trump on Twitter: ‘Looking at Air Force One @ MIA. Why is he campaigning instead of creating jobs & fixing Obamacare? Get back to work for the American people!’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  18. @realDonaldTrump. (2016c). Donald J. Trump on Twitter: ‘So terrible that Crooked didn’t report she got the debate questions from Donna Brazile, if that were me it would have been front page news!’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  19. @realDonaldTrump. (2016d). Donald J. Trump on Twitter: ‘The highly neurotic Debbie Wasserman Schultz is angry that, after stealing and cheating her way to a Crooked Hillary victory, she’s out!’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  20. @realDonaldTrump. (2016e). Donald J. Trump on Twitter: ‘Tried watching low-rated @Morning_Joe this morning, unwatchable! @morningmika is off the wall, a neurotic and not very bright mess!’ Accessed 27 April 2017.
  21. Amaratunga, Dilanthi; David Baldry; Marjan Sarshar; and Rita Newton (2002). Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment: Application of “mixed” research approach. Work Study, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Bartlett, Jamie; Jonathan Birdwell; and Mark Littler (2011). The new face of digital populism. Demos.Google Scholar
  23. Blanquart, Gabrielle; and David M. Cook (2013). Twitter influence and cumulative perceptions of extremist support: A case study of Geert Wilders. In: Proceedings of the 4th Australian counter terrorism conference, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, 2nd-4th December, 2013.
  24. Bode, Leticia; and Kajsa E. Dalrymple (2016). Politics in 140 characters or less: Campaign communication, network interaction, and political participation on twitter. Journal of Political Marketing, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 311–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Boorstin, Daniel J. (2012). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  26. Boulus-Rødje, Nina; and Pernille Bjørn (2015). Design challenges in supporting distributed knowledge: An examination of organizing elections. In: CHI 2015.  Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Seoul, South Korea, 18 April - 23 April 2015. New York: ACM Press, pp. 3137–3146.Google Scholar
  27. Boulus-Rødje, Nina; Pernille Bjørn; and Ahmad Ghazawneh (2015). “It’s about business not politics”: Software development between Palestinians and Israelis. ECSCW 2015: Proceedings of the 14th European Conference on Computer-supported Cooperative Work, 19–23 September 2015, Oslo, Norway. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 43–61.Google Scholar
  28. Boyd, Danah (2010). Social steganography: Learning to hide in plain sight. Apophenia.
  29. Cassell, Justine; David Huffaker; Dona Tversky; and Kim Ferriman (2005). How to win a world election: Emergent leadership in an international online community. In Communities and technologies 2005. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 149–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ceron, Andrea; and Giovanna d’Adda (2016). E-campaigning on twitter: The effectiveness of distributive promises and negative campaign in the 2013 Italian election. New Media & Society, vol. 18, no. 9, pp. 1935–1955.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Choy, Looi Theam (2014). The strengths and weaknesses of research methodology: Comparison and complimentary between qualitative and quantitative approaches. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 99–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Cohen, Jacob (1968). Weighted kappa: Nominal scale agreement provision for scaled disagreement or partial credit. Psychological Bulletin, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 213–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Doris-Down, Abraham; Husayn Versee; and Eric Gilbert (2013). Political blend: An application designed to bring people together based on political differences. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Communities and Technologies. New York: ACM Press, pp. 120–130.Google Scholar
  34. Edelman, Murray (1988). Constructing the political spectacle. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 532–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Eisterhold, Jodi; Salvatore Attardo; and Diane Boxer (2006). Reactions to irony in discourse: Evidence for the least disruption principle. Journal of Pragmatics, vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 1239–1256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Engesser, Sven; Nicole Ernst; Frank Esser; and Florin Büchel (2017). Populism and social media: How politicians spread a fragmented ideology. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 20, no. 8, pp. 1109–1126. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Enli, Gunn (2017). Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: Exploring the social media campaigns of trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election. European Journal of Communication, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 50–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Friedersdorf, Conor (2016). Donald Trump, Master of the Pseudo-Event. The Atlantic (8 December 2016).
  40. Gerbaudo, Paolo (2017). The populist era. Soundings, vol. 65, no. 65, pp. 46–58.Google Scholar
  41. Golbeck, Jennifer; Justin M. Grimes; and Anthony Rogers (2010). Twitter use by the US Congress. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, vol. 61, no. 8, pp. 1612–1621.Google Scholar
  42. Goodman, Nelson (1978). Ways of Worldmaking, vol. 51. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  43. Gourgiotis, Sophia E. (2016). Instattack: Instagram and Visual Ad Hominem Political Arguments. Ph.D. dissertation. University of South Florida, Florida: Dept. of English, College of Arts and Sciences.Google Scholar
  44. Groshek, Jacob; and Jiska Engelbert (2013). Double differentiation in a cross-national comparison of populist political movements and online media uses in the United States and the Netherlands. New Media & Society, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 183–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Groshek, Jacob; and Karolina Koc-Michalska (2017). Helping populism win? Social media use, filter bubbles, and support for populist presidential candidates in the 2016 US election campaign. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 20, no. 9 pp. 1389–1407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hameleers, Michael; Linda Bos; and Claes H. de Vreese (2016). “They did it.” the effects of emotionalized blame attribution in populist communication. Communication Research, vol. 44, no. 6, pp. 870–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hecht, Brent; Loren Terveen; Kate Starbird; Ben Shneiderman; and Jennifer Golbeck (2017). The 2016 US election and HCI: Towards a research agenda. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 6 May – 11 May 2017. New York: ACM Press, pp. 1307–1311.Google Scholar
  48. Hemphill, Libby; Matthew A. Shapiro; and Jahna Otterbacher (2012). Chicago politicians on twitter. In Midwest Political Science Association Meeting, Chicago, IL, April 12-15, pp. 1–18.Google Scholar
  49. Hjarvard, Stig (2013). The Mediatization of culture and society. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hutter, Swen (2011). Globalization and the transformation of National Protest Politics. In H. Kouki and E. Romanos (eds.): Protest Beyond Borders. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 188–199.Google Scholar
  51. Inglehart, Ronald; and Pippa Norris (2016). Trump, Brexit, and the rise of populism: Economic have-nots and cultural backlash. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Working Paper.Google Scholar
  52. Ionescu, Ghița; and Ernest Gellner (1969). Populism: Its meanings and National Characteristics. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  53. Jacovi, Michal; Ido Guy; Inbal Ronen; Adam Perer; Erel Uziel; and Michael Maslenko (2011). Digital traces of interest: Deriving interest relationships from social media interactions. In ECSCW 2011: Proceedings of the 12th European conference on computer-supported cooperative work, 24–28 September 2011, Aarhus Denmark. London: Springer, pp. 21–40.Google Scholar
  54. Van Kessel, Stijn; and Remco Castelein (2016). Shifting the Blame. Populist Politicians’ Use of Twitter as a Tool of Opposition. Journal of Contemporary European Research, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 594–614.Google Scholar
  55. Kilgo, Danielle K.; Summer Harlow; Victor García-Perdomo; and Ramón Salaverría (2016). A new sensation? An international exploration of sensationalism and social media recommendations in online news publications. Journalism, 1464884916683549.Google Scholar
  56. Kou, Yubo; Yong Ming Kow; Xinning Gui; and Waikuen Cheng (2017). One social movement, two social media sites: A comparative study of public discourses. Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 26, no. 4–6, pp. 807–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Krämer, Benjamin (2017). Populist online practices: The function of the internet in right-wing populism. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 20, no. 9, pp. 1293–1309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kriesi, Hanspeter (2011). The changing political preconditions for political communication: The forces that shape the political elites’ ability to control the citizen public. Speech. In Conference on Political Communication in Europe: ‘Changing Contexts. Changing Contents’, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 7 January 2011. Google Scholar
  59. Laclau, Ernesto (1977). Towards a theory of populism. In Politics and ideology in Marxist theory. London: Verso, pp. 143–200.Google Scholar
  60. Lagerwerf, Luuk (2007). Irony and sarcasm in advertisements: Effects of relevant inappropriateness. Journal of Pragmatics, vol. 39, no. 10, pp. 1702–1721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lievrouw, Leah A. (2003). When users push back: Oppositional new media and community. Communities and Technologies. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 391–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lijphart, Arend (2012). Patterns of democracy: Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Lilleker, Darren G.; and Nigel A. Jackson (2010). Towards a more participatory style of election campaigning: The impact of web 2.0 on the UK 2010 general election. Policy & Internet, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 69–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. March, Luke (2017). Left and right populism compared: The British case. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 282–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Marder, Ben; Emma Slade; David Houghton; and Chris Archer-Brown (2016). “I like them, but won't ‘like’ them”: An examination of impression management associated with visible political party affiliation on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 61, pp. 280–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mascaro, Christopher M.; and Sean P. Goggins (2011). Brewing Up Citizen Engagement: the Coffee Party on Facebook. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies. New York: ACM Press, pp. 11–20.Google Scholar
  67. Mazzoleni, Gianpietro (2014). Mediatization and Political Populism. In F. Esser and J. Strömbäck (eds): Mediatization of Politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 42–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Medina, Rocío Zamora; and Cristina Zurutuza Muñoz (2014). Campaigning on Twitter: Towards the ‘Personal Style’ Campaign to Activate the Political Engagement During the 2011 Spanish General Elections [La campaña en Twitter. El ‘estilo personal’ como estrategia para activar la participación política durante las elecciones generales españolas de 2011.] Comunicación y Sociedad, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 83.Google Scholar
  69. Moffitt, Benjamin (2015). How to Perform Crisis: A Model for Understanding the Key Role of Crisis in Contemporary Populism. Government and Opposition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. 50, no. 02, pp. 189–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Moffitt, Benjamin (2016). The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mudde, Cas (2011). Radical Right Parties in Europe: What, Who, Why? Participation, vol. 34, no. 3.Google Scholar
  72. Mudde, Cas; and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (2012). Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Müller, Jan-Werner (2014). ‘The People Must Be Extracted from Within the People’: Reflections on Populism. Constellations, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 483–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Nuolijärvi, Pirkko; and Liisa Tiittula (2011). Irony in Political Television Debates. Journal of Pragmatics, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 572–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ott, Brian L. (2017). The Age of Twitter: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of Debasement. Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 59–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Pal, Joyojeet; Priyank Chandra; and VG Vinod Vydiswaran (2016). Twitter and the Rebranding of Narendra Modi. Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 51, no. 8, pp. 52–60.Google Scholar
  77. Palen, Leysia; and Kenneth M. Anderson (2016). Crisis Informatics — New Data for Extraordinary Times. Science, vol. 353, no. 6296, pp. 224–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Park, Chang Sup (2013). Political Carnivalism and an Emerging Public Space: Examination of a New Participatory Culture on Twitter. International Journal of Electronic Governance, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 302–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Parmelee, John H.; and Shannon L. Bichard (2011). Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public. Lanham, Boulder, New York: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  80. Plotkowiak, Thomas; and Katarina Stanoevska-Slabeva (2013). German Politicians and their Twitter Networks in the Bundestag Election 2009. First Monday, vol. 18, no. 5.Google Scholar
  81. Polkinghorne, Donald E. (1995). Narrative Configuration in Qualitative Analysis. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 5–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Riff, Daniel; Stephen Lacy; and Frederick Fico (2014). Analyzing Media Messages: Using Quantitative Content Analysis in Research. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Saeed, Saqib; Markus Rohde; and Volker Wulf (2009). Technologies within transnational social activist communities: an ethnographic study of the European social forum. In Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Communities and Technologies, University Park, PA 25 June-27 June 2009. New York: ACM Press, pp. 85–94).Google Scholar
  84. Schmidt, Jan-Hinrik (2014). Twitter and the Rise of Personal Publics. In K. Weller et al. (eds): Twitter and Society. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 3–14.Google Scholar
  85. Schmidt, Kjeld; and Liam J. Bannon (1992). Taking CSCW Seriously: Supporting Articulation Work. Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 1, no. 1–2, pp. 7–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Schweitzer, Eva Johanna (2012). The Mediatization of E-campaigning: Evidence From German Party Websites in State, National, and European Parliamentary Elections 2002–2009. Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 283–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sparks, David (2010). Birds of a feather tweet together: Partisan structure in online social networks. In Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  88. Tromble, Rebekah (2018). Thanks for (Actually) Responding! How Citizen Demand Shapes Politicians’ Interactive Practices on Twitter. New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 676–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Tumasjan, Andranik; Timm Oliver Sprenger; Phlipp G. Sandner; and Isabell M. Welpe (2010). Predicting Elections with Twitter: What 140 Characters Reveal about Political Sentiment. ICWSM: Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 178–185.Google Scholar
  90. Udupa, Sahana (2018). Gaali Cultures: The Politics of Abusive Exchange on Social Media. New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 1506–1522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Vraga, Emily K.; Kjerstin Thorson; Neta Kligler-Vilenchik; and Emily Gee (2015). How Individual Sensitivities to Disagreement Shape Youth Political Expression on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 45, pp. 281–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Walton, S. Courtney; and Ronald E. Rice (2013). Mediated Disclosure on Twitter: The Roles of Gender and Identity in Boundary Impermeability, Valence, Disclosure, and Stage. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 1465–1474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wilson, Jason (2011). Playing with Politics: Political Fans and Twitter Faking in Post-broadcast Democracy. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 445–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Yu, Bingjie (2017). An investigation of design parameters for constructive online discussion environment. – Doctorial Colloquium Paper. The 15th European Conference on Computer-supported Cooperative Work, Sheffield, 28 August-1 September 2017.Google Scholar
  95. Zavattaro, Staci M. (2010). Brand Obama: The Implications of a Branded President. Administrative Theory & Praxis, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 123–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A’ndre Gonawela
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joyojeet Pal
    • 1
  • Udit Thawani
    • 1
  • Elmer van der Vlugt
    • 1
  • Wim Out
    • 2
  • Priyank Chandra
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Leiden UniversityLeidenthe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations