Who Uses Alternative and Partisan Brands?

In this section, we look in more detail at who uses alternative and partisan websites in different countries. We have defined these as websites or blogs with a political or ideological agenda with a user base that tends to share these often partisan views. Most were created relatively recently and are mainly distributed through social media. The motivation may not be purely political as there may also be a strong business opportunity in focusing on these topics. The narrowness of their focus also separates them from some established news sites, which may also have a reputation for partisan political coverage.

We have worked with partners in ten European countries to identify a number of sites that fit these criteria and then to measure usage via our survey. Across these sites, net usage and awareness was higher in Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, and Sweden, but lower in Austria, Finland, Germany, and the UK.

In this chapter we explore the profile of the users of these sites including demographic breakdown and political orientation. Using open-ended survey responses we also hear more about the motivations people have for using these websites.

How Partisan are These Websites?

To examine whether the users of alternative and partisan websites are on the left or the right of the political spectrum, we asked all respondents to self-identify their political views and then we combined these data with the online sources they use to create the audience maps seen below. An outlet appears to the left of the mid-point if it has an audience that contains a higher proportion of left-leaning people than the sample as a whole.

In the UK, the Another Angry Voice blog and the Canary website are placed further to the left of the map, because a high proportion of their users self-identify on the left. By contrast users of Breitbart UK and of the Brexit supporting Westmonster are further to the right of the map, because the majority of the users of these sites self-identify on the right.

In the US, the users of the right-wing websites Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and InfoWars have an audience profile that is much further to the right than other websites (with the exception of Fox News). Occupy Democrats’ audience is at the left side of the political spectrum, close to other outlets with predominantly left-wing audiences like NPR and Huffington Post.

In Sweden, the audience of Fria Tider, Nyheter Idag, and Ledarsidorna are further to the right of the audience of the top 15 news brands. Academic research shows that these sites tend to come from a right-wing position and present themselves as alternatives to the legacy media, who they perceive as censoring critical information on issues such as immigration.1 In Austria, we also see that users of the far-right Unzensiriert (Uncensored), founded by a former Freedom Party (FPO) official, are furthest to the right of the audience map while Kontrast.at, a news blog run by the parliamentary club of the social-democratic party SPÖ, also pushed through social media channels, is more on the left side of our audience map.2

AUDIENCE MAPS FOR THE TOP 15 ONLINE NEWS SOURCES AND SELECTED ALTERNATIVE OR PARTISAN BRANDS

UK

Partisan UK

USA

US partisan brands
Sweden

Partisan Sweden

Austria

Partisan Austria

Q1F. Some people talk about ‘left’, ‘right’, and ‘centre’ to describe parties and politicians. With this in mind, where would you place yourself on the following scale?
Q5b. Which of the following brands have you used to access news online in the last week (via websites, apps, social media, and other forms of internet access)?
Q5c_2018_2. Which, if any, of the following have you used to access news in the last week?
Base: Total sample in each market.
Note: Those who answered don’t know to Q1F were excluded.

These maps show that these new websites and blogs have given voice to views that previously may have been unrepresented in the media, but they also show the difficulties in classifying partisan sites. We find traditional media sites, like Fox News and some UK newspapers, also talking to partisan audiences even if they cover a much wider range of news beyond politics.

In other countries we find that these sites often to speak to different kinds of divisions that are not fully captured by a traditional left–right spectrum. Often we find sites on the both left and the right sharing a common anti-immigration and anti-establishment agenda.

Further complicating the situation, in some Central and Eastern European countries, the government itself also engages in populist narratives, which are covered by sympathetic (or more directly controlled) traditional media outlets. Here the divisions between traditional and partisan brands may blur compared with the examples on the maps above. In Poland, for example, the mainstream public broadcaster TVP, which has an editorial line that supports the ruling Law and Justice party,3 appears in a similar position on our map to PolskaNiepodlegla.pl (Independent Poland) a right-wing nationalist site created in 2013. Recent headlines from this publication include ‘Islam is violence and rape’, ‘Poland for Poles’, and ‘German arrogance on the rise’4. Another site with a partisan audience is WPolityce.pl, which is at the centre of a number of sites (and a TV station) that are supportive of the Law and Justice party and its policies. By contrast, Koduj24.pl is a liberal news website launched in 2016 by a former public radio editor as an official news service of Komitet Obrony Demokracji, or the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, one of the major opposition organisations in Poland that recently mobilised thousands of people to demonstrate in defence of the constitutional tribunal and the judiciary.5

AUDIENCE MAP FOR THE TOP 15 ONLINE NEWS SOURCES AND SELECTED ALTERNATIVE OR PARTISAN BRANDS

Poland

Partisan Poland

Q1F. Some people talk about ‘left’, ‘right’, and ‘centre’ to describe parties and politicians. With this in mind, where would you place yourself on the following scale?
Q5b. Which of the following brands have you used to access news online in the last week (via websites, apps, social media, and other forms of internet access)?
Q5c_2018_2. Which, if any, of the following have you used to access news in the last week?
Base: Total sample.
Note: Those who answered don’t know to Q1F were excluded.

Use of Alternative Websites and Trust in News

What users of most of these websites have in common is low trust in news, compared to the total sample in their countries. Fewer users of Breitbart in the US show trust in news (13%), compared to the country average (34%). And the same is true for users of anti-immigration and right-wing sites Unzensuriert in Austria and Fria Tider and Nyheter Idag in Sweden, when compared to national averages. By contrast some left-leaning partisan sites like Occupy Democrats have much higher trust levels (56%) than the average, in common with other left-wingers in the United States.

Motivations for Use

When asked about motivations for using these websites on an open-ended form in the survey, most respondents talked about their distrust of — or lack of respect for — mainstream media (MSM). In the US, right-wing respondents used similar language to that adopted by the US president.

Conservative news is real news as opposed to totalitarian socialist propaganda from elite media sources.

(M, 64, Breitbart user, US)

I generally agree with the views of these sites, and they don’t report FAKE NEWS like CNN and the other Lame Stream Media!

(M, 71, Breitbart user, US)

In other countries too, the rejection of mainstream, ‘biased’, ‘political correct’ media was a core reason for using these websites:

Mainstream media is biased, always covers the news to show the Tories in a good light, you have to look further if you want the truth.

(F, 48, Another Angry Voice user, UK)

I like to read articles which don’t appear in the mass media for reasons of political correctness.

(M, 47, Politically Incorrect (PI-News) user, Germany)

In Germany and Austria, in particular, a key motivation expressed was about finding alternative and different perspectives on the subject of immigration. Here traditional media, and in particular Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs), are seen by some as deliberately concealing the truth:

I believe that the public service broadcasters such as ARD and ZDF are controlled by the state. That’s why I also inform myself on websites that offer free and uncensored news.

(M, 67, Politically Incorrect (PI-News), and Junge Freiheit user, Germany)

Because it is interesting and because as opposed to the ORF, it provides uncensored news.

(M, 61, Unzensuriert user, Austria)

The Junge Freiheit often reports about things that interest me: when dole sanctions are tightened, when things are concealed in the media, or simply when information are tried to be kept away from us. It is not my first point of contact but when it comes to social injustices etc., it is my reference.

(F, 35, Junge Freiheit user, Germany)

In Spain the character of these sites is distinctly different. The weakness of mainstream media has led to a range of alternative political websites and blogs that do not always fit a left/right agenda. Partisanship could be related to the territorial integrity of Spain (Catalan independence) or more closely related with a particular political party. But the motivation for using these sites is similar, to gain perspectives that are not represented by the mainstream media.

To get news from a Catalan point of view because I don’t trust news from Spain.

(F, 34, Directe.Cat user, Spain)

To have another perspective of the news and current affairs. Each organisation according to its ideology tells the stories a certain way.

(M, 40, OK Diario and Libertad Digital user, Spain)

Many respondents expressed the view in open-ended comments that alternative sites provide accurate reporting and valuable perspectives — and that it is mainstream media that are biased. However, amongst others, there is a recognition that the coverage they consume is politically partisan, indeed this is part of the attraction:

[they are] honest about the bias they have.

(M, 31, Another Angry Voice and Evolve Politics user, UK)

Use of Alternative Websites and Age/Gender

Looking at the demographic profile of different sites in the US, we see that they are used by both young and old, though Breitbart in the US is more popular among those over 35 (8% reach vs 3% reach among those below 35). It is also predominantly used by men (68% of its audience).

In the UK, there are no significant differences in terms of age in the use of the right-wing Breitbart or the left-wing Canary, which are used only by a small fraction of the UK population. But in Germany, we see a different demographic profile. When looking at whether people use at least one of a number of right-wing websites, (Breitbart, Politically Incorrect (PI-News), Compact Online, Junge Freiheit), we find that they are more popular among those under 35, while they are predominantly used by men (60% of those who use at least one of these websites). We also do not find any clear association with income. These websites in Germany are similarly popular among individuals in low, medium, and high-income households.

Overall, we find that the users of alternative or partisan websites in a number of countries show a more diverse profile than expected, although they tend to be predominately male. Most users of these sites have low trust in the news and in mainstream media outlets in particular, which they think fail to tell the truth on issues like Europe and immigration. Some sites have close links to politicians and political parties, others are run by individuals with strong beliefs. But with significant and surprising usage in some countries, these sites reflect and to some extent inflame populist and anti-establishment narratives that are sweeping much of Europe.

This chapter was compiled with the help of research and insight from Grzegorz Piechota, Reuters Institute (Poland), Kristoffer Holt, Linnæus University, Kalmar (Sweden), Samuel Negredo Bruna, University of Navarra, (Spain), Sergio Sparviero and Josef Trappel, Salzburg University (Austria), Sascha Hölig, Hans-Bredow-Institut für Medienforschung (Germany).

  1. K. Holt, ‘Journalistik bortom redaktionerna?’ in SOU 2016:30 Människorna, medierna, marknaden (pp. 403–428). Stockholm: Wolter Kluwers, 2016. See also Dagens Nyheter investigation into these sites that it says share criticisms of Sweden’s immigration policy and contempt for the established media. https://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/brottsdomda-nolltaxerare-och-jagade-av-kronofogden
  2. ORF News discusses SPO’s blogs and Facebook strategy, 7 July 2017, accessed Apr. 2018. https://oe1.orf.at/artikel/635301
  3. Reporters Without Borders World Freedom Index 2017 report says that controversial reforms carried out by Poland’s ultra-conservative Law and Justice government since late 2015 include bringing public radio and TV broadcasters under its control, replacing their directors, and turning them into propaganda outlets. https://rsf.org/en/journalism-weakened-democracys-erosion
  4. http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Recent-covers-from-Polska-Niepodlegla.pdf
  5. Freedom House report Poland 2017: https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/NIT2017_Poland_0.pdf