UACES Research Network Panel: Communicating Europe: Challenging EU Legitimacy
In this panel submitted as part of the UACES Research Network ‘Communicating Europe’, the panellists consider the ways in which the legitimacy of the EU, its actions, policies and values are challenged by a myriad of different actors. In the ten years since the European Union’s response to the global financial crisis, the values, actions and policies of the EU have been subject to frequent debate in national politics, traditional media, online groups and even within the EU’s institutions themselves. The narratives, rhetoric and case-studies used to communicate about the EU have both served to legitimise the institutions and their actions, as well as to question and indeed denigrate them. Furthermore, the rise of online disinformation, has served to further cloud political communication concerning the EU.
The papers in this panel constitute an interdisciplinary perspective on these challenges, demonstrating how different actors challenge the legitimacy of the EU’s economic, regulatory and legal frameworks through their communications about the EU, governed by the question ‘how do actors in the public sphere communicate about Europe in ways that challenge its legitimacy?’ Papers in this panel focus on topics such as the role of populist national parties in critiquing the EU, the unintended consequences of EU attempts to regulate hate speech on social media, the role of traditional media in misrepresenting the EU through inaccurate reporting, and the role of online disinformation in actively misleading social media users and fostering conspiracy theories about the EU.
Presentations of the Symposium
'Those with the heart on the right side would know…' Communicating and Regulating Disagreement – on Political Hate Speech in Europe
The proposed contribution is a result of an inter-disciplinary inquiry into the content, perception, and regulation of hate speech in a particular context of utterances produced by non-native English speakers. In particular, the focus is placed on the political disagreement falling within the scope of the European Union hate speech and xenophobia, as expressed by non-English native speakers. The contribution aims to address one major research questions: Whether the EU regulatory setting (2008 Framework decision on combatting racism and xenophobia and the 2016 Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online) and its implementation vis-a-vis ESL speakers take into account the divergent standards of politeness, directedness and semantical awareness of individuals. As the second step, this contribution will assess the impact of regulation on the European online community assessing whether, indeed, the hate speech regulation leads to the censorship of political expressions.
The project is a response to the ubiquity of social media in non-English speaking countries. Whereas English is the global language of social media, it is not the native language of many social media users. And yet, the inhabitants of the metaphorical ‘L’auberge espagnole’ using English as the chief modality of communication are possibly the heart of the European political community.
This research at the core of this contribution was developed in parallel to the larger student project taking place at the University of Maastricht and University of Warsaw focused on the implementation of the irregular hate speech online.
The Misconceptions of Media and Political Discourse on European Union Issues: The Case of Portugal
The paper draws on cases of flawed information concerning the European Union (EU), at the level of media and political rhetoric in the Portuguese context. The aim is to explore the consequences on citizens’ perceptions on European integration issues, in particular, and on their political perceptions, in general. It is important to distinguish media from political discourse for the different responsibilities attached to each source of information. At one level, whenever media are perceived as accurate and trustworthy, the cases of wrong information about the EU have a negative impact on readers, especially when their knowledge about the EU is weak. At the other level, national politicians are tied to an additional degree of responsibility. On the one hand, the public pays considerable attention to what is going on in domestic politics, looking to political discourse as a reliable source of information. On the other hand, national politicians are (one way or the other) involved in EU politics. The implications of flawed information or misconceived political rhetoric regarding the EU is a cause of citizens’ bias against the EU and, therefore, a plausible cause of the mistrust towards the EU. The paper also looks at the necessary conditions to change citizens’ focal point of information from conventional means (national media and politicians) towards more credible, thorough and knowledge-based sources of information, such as EU institutions websites and mailing lists, think tanks related with European integration, and specific media resources dealing with the EU.
Online Disinformation and the Reconstitution of Europe: Challenging the Legitimacy of EU Law
In an increasingly Balkanised and fractious social media environment, online disinformation has been able to proliferate, serving to reinforce the conceptions of the target audiences. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the EU is characterised in online disinformation, focusing upon the mechanisms for creation, dissemination and reinforcing of this ‘fake news’ about the EU and its functions. Considering case studies of fabricated stories about the EU originating on message boards such as 4chan and spread through other social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter, this paper demonstrates that the underlying reasons for creating this online disinformation are varied, ranging from political ideology to generating controversy, to ‘doing it for the lulz’. However, as will be demonstrated, as mainstream social media and traditional media pick up these stories, they are provided an added legitimacy, feeding into existing conspiracy theories about the EU as a form of shadowy ‘New World Order’, or creating laws that seek to undermine traditional values. This paper will demonstrate how these forms of online communication about Europe serve to delegitimise EU law and the law-making process, in ways that the EU’s policy responses have so far been unable to counter.