Milei's irruption in Argentina: ultra-right-wing media and networks

10 minutes
Milei's irruption in Argentina: ultra-right-wing media and networks
By: Martin Becerra‍

The Argentine presidential election is heading for a second round on November 19 between the ruling candidate Sergio Massa (Peronist) and the opposition candidate Javier Milei (ultra-right). It is difficult to underestimate what is at stake, because the political projects of the two candidates are antagonistic. Massa and Milei are separated by past and present assessments, political, social and media alliances, communication styles, and uses of traditional and social media.

Beyond the uncertainty about the outcome of this contest, the campaign of the previous months confirms trends already registered in other countries with radicalized right-wing forces that reset the previous political agenda, condition the actions of the rest of the parties and enable ultra social practices and discourses that were previously neutralized by previous democratic consensuses, now broken. This has happened and is happening with Bolsonarism in Brazil, with Donald Trump's leadership in the United States, with Vox in Spain and other countries.

The common denominator is a violent environment that seems scripted by Russell T Davies, author of the British series Years & Years: a growing political and social instability fueled by disinformation operations and conspiracy messages in socio-digital networks, in the face of the passivity, daze and mediocrity of democratic institutions and leaders.

However, instability and disinformation operations are not anonymous (as is often believed) but are amplified, and in many cases produced, by elites interested in profiting from a chaotic scenario, including the traditional media. Public opinion leaders with years of presence in radio, television and written columns in Argentina raise Milei's flags while they finish off the shreds of their decayed independent and professional imposture. Journalistic deontology, may it rest in peace.

Digital platforms, whose business model in the attention economy promotes recommendation systems for discriminatory content and hate messages, play their game: in the midst of the election campaign, the Asociación Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo warned Google Argentina about the "ethical responsibility in the hosting, dissemination and algorithmic recommendation of information, especially when it comes to events as sensitive as the military dictatorship", given that YouTube (and other platforms) host content that denies or underestimates the crimes committed in that period, "perpetuating a narrative that openly contradicts the reality and suffering that we live as a society".

While the letter to Google stresses that "it is encouraging to know that in countries such as Germany, Google and YouTube have taken steps to prohibit content of this type in their rules of use (such as content that denies or minimizes the Holocaust), recognizing the importance of not allowing falsehoods about such momentous and painful historical events to be disseminated," the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo ask "why does Google Argentina not protect Argentines from the dissemination of denialist content that perpetuates the pain and suffering of the victims and their families?"

Milei's candidacy recreates the painful memory of the dictatorship that ended 40 years ago, because both Milei and -above all- his vice-presidential running mate, Victoria Villarruel, being an electoral novelty, vindicate the State terrorism of that time. Milei's irruption is, however, much more than that.

He is an economist who has had great television exposure, a figure invited during the last decade to talk shows, panels and political opinion cycles. His histrionics and eccentricities (he claims to talk to his dead dogs, dresses up as a chainsaw to illustrate promises of socio-economic adjustment) lubricate an anti-state dogma repeated at levels unknown to large audiences. His slogans of dollarization, his position in favor of free market buying and selling of organs, children and weapons and his disdain for public education and health systems, are combined with an "anti-caste" rhetoric, which holds the political "caste" responsible for Argentina's socio-economic problems. 

His speech, exalted and shouting, expresses a visceral anti-progressivism, as he denigrates gender issues, disbelieves in global warming and is against environmental care, resurrects the justification of the Military Juntas about the crimes of the dictatorship and swears that he would cut relations with China and Brazil, two of Argentina's three main trading partners, for having "communist" governments.

Milei condenses a previous trend of influencers, youtubers and accounts with anti-feminist, xenophobic, anti-progressive, anti-labor and environmental rights content and exaltation of violence against people and groups identified as enemies.

After the first round of elections on October 22, former President Mauricio Macri and former right-wing candidate Patricia Bullrich -who came third, behind Massa and Milei - gave their explicit support to Milei for the runoff. Macri's move drags media companies (such as La Nación and the TV channel LN+) and notorious hosts and journalists of powerful media groups that previously operated in favor of Bullrich's frustrated candidacy. Then, they were branded as "ensobrados" (corrupted) by Milei and today they are battering rams of his crusade. Double irony: yesterday's "ensobrados" join their aggressor in the campaign of a candidacy that was born anti-system but was intervened at the last moment by well-known politicians of the "caste" such as Macri or Bullrich.

On the other side is Massa, current Minister of Economy in a country with an inflation rate of over 140%, an increase in poverty and indigence and a huge foreign debt. An example of what Milei calls caste, Massa has a long trajectory in the ranks of Peronism (although in his early youth he had participated in a liberal-conservative group). He has been mayor of the town of Tigre; he was Chief of Cabinet of Ministers during the first administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, before fighting with Kirchnerism and defeating it at the polls in the Province of Buenos Aires in 2013; he organized alliances with other center-right and anti-Kirchnerist Peronists, to end up converging, as of 2019, in the pan-Peronist alliance led by the current president, Alberto Fernández, and his vice, Cristina Fernández. During this period, he was president of the Chamber of Deputies before assuming the calcining Ministry of Economy in July 2022. Massa has the media backing of some private groups of less influence than those supporting Milei, but almost all social movements, workers' unions, academic and scientific institutions, many provincial governments and some industrial organizations militate in his favor. In addition, of course, he manages the State apparatus.

The days leading up to the second and defining electoral round are witnessing intense videos, memes and statements involving even the 'swifties' (Taylor Swift's followers) and the Army of BTS (k-pop), against Milei. Also of dirty campaigns ridiculing the adversary, with professional and handmade editions, disinformation pieces circulate, especially in the camp of the ultra-right-winger. 

In networks there is banal disinformation, such as the claim that Lionel Messi would have said that he supports Milei (which is false), and another very serious one, such as the accusation of fraud in the first electoral round won by Massa. The Argentine ultra-right wing copies the delegitimization of the election process, control and control already carried out by Trump and Bolsonaro in the US and Brazil when they were defeated at the polls.

In democracy, low blows may not only hurt the adversary -something that will be seen on November 19- but also the coexistence itself. This is the risk for an Argentina that is celebrating 40 years of constitutional continuity.

This article originally appeared in Botando Corriente, our newsletter. You can subscribe here:

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Martin Becerra

He holds a PhD in Information Sciences from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, is a Conicet researcher in Argentina and a professor at the universities of Buenos Aires and Quilmes. He directs the Centro de Investigación en Industrias Culturales y Espacio Público (ICEP). He has worked as a journalist in Argentinean newspapers and magazines. He is a consultant on media policies and regulations and communication technologies, topics on which he has written books and academic articles. On X (Twitter) he is @aracalacana

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