Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Empowering the People’s Truth Through Social Media? (De)Legitimizing Truth Claims of Populist Politicians and Citizens

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Abstract:  Right-wing populists have allegedly fueled increasing levels of distrust regarding expert knowledge and empirical evidence. Yet, we know little about how right-wing populist politicians and citizens use social media to construct and oppose truth claims. Using a qualitative analysis of Twitter and Facebook posts communicated by right-wing populists and citizens supporting populist ideas in the Netherlands, this article offers in-depth insights into processes of legitimization (confirming truth claims) and de-legitimization (opposing truth claims). The main conclusion is that right-wing populists and citizens supporting populism do not share a universal way of referring to reality. They use social media to communicate a confirmation-biased reality: Expert knowledge and evidence are de-contextualized or reinterpreted and aligned with right-wing populist agendas. References to the people’s experiences and worldviews, conspiracy theories and crisis sentiments are used to legitimize people’s opposition to expert knowledge and empirical evidence. Based on these findings, we coin the idea of an “adaptable construction of confirmation-biased truth claims” central in right-wing populist interpretations of reality. In times of increasing attacks on expert knowledge and empirical evidence, populist discourse may fuel an antagonism between the ordinary people’s experiences and the truth claims of established media channels and politicians in government. Social media offer a platform to members of the public to engage in discussions about (un)truthfulness, perceived deception, and populist oppositions—potentially amplifying divides between the ordinary people’s experiences and expert sources.

Keywords:  disinformation; fake news; misinformation; populism; right-wing populism; social media; truthfulness



© Michael Hameleers. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.