Populism and Fake News in Europe: A Lethal Combo

Author: Dr. Rafaela Orphanides

Populism and fake news, two buzzwords that have taken the world by storm in recent years. Europe, in particular, has been grappling with these two challenges, which have the potential to undermine democratic institutions and social cohesion. In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of this deadly combination and how Europe is fighting back.

First things first, what’s populism? Populism is a political ideology that puts the needs and wants of the people at the forefront. Populist movements have gained popularity across Europe in recent years, with leaders like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Viktor Orban leading the charge. Populists often use social media and other digital platforms to spread their message and gain support.

Now, let’s talk about fake news. Fake news is false or misleading information that is spread through traditional or digital media. In Europe, social media platforms have made it easier for fake news to spread quickly and widely, leading to increased polarization and division in society.

So, what’s the connection between populism and fake news? Populist movements often use fake news to promote their agendas and discredit their opponents. For example, during the Brexit campaign, the Leave campaign used false information to promote their message, such as the claim that leaving the EU “would save £350 million a week that could be spent on the National Health Service” (Nature, 2016, para 11). Similarly, in the 2016 US Presidential election, the Trump campaign used fake news to discredit Hillary Clinton and promote their message.

The use of fake news by populist movements can have serious implications for democracy and social cohesion in Europe. Fake news can create division and polarization within societies, leading to social unrest and instability. It can also erode trust in democratic institutions, leading to a decline in political participation and engagement.

So, what can be done to tackle this lethal combo? Well, media literacy education is one key component. By educating citizens on how to distinguish between true and false information, we can help them develop critical thinking skills and become more discerning consumers of news. Fact-checking initiatives are another crucial component, as they can help to identify and expose fake news. Stronger regulations for social media platforms are also needed to prevent the spread of false information.

In conclusion, populism and fake news are two of the most significant challenges facing Europe today. Populist movements often use fake news to promote their agendas and undermine trust in democratic institutions, and this can have serious implications for democracy and social cohesion. However, by taking a comprehensive approach that includes media literacy education, fact-checking initiatives, and stronger regulations for social media platforms, Europe can fight back against this deadly combo. 

Stay tuned in our website for the educational MOOC programme which aids in the development of strategies for resisting and overcoming populism ideologies in eveyday life currently being developed by the we-europeans partners. 


Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-236.

Brexit: UK should remain. (2016). Nature, 534, 295. https://doi.org/10.1038/534295a

European Commission. (2018). Tackling online disinformation: A European approach. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/tackling-online-disinformation-european-approach

European Parliament. (2018). Populism in Europe. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2018/614701/EPRS_ATA(2018)614701_EN.pdf

Wardle, C. (2017). Fake news. It’s complicated. First Draft News. Retrieved from https://firstdraftnews.org/fake-news-complicated/

Populism and Fake News in Europe: A Lethal Combo
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