What is populism and when does it become problematic?

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Us or them, good or bad, pro or contra. The world can be so simple. Really? At least that is the basic attitude of populism. Its representatives are convinced that they are defending the "true" will of the people, which in their eyes is being suppressed by elites. In populist rhetoric, in addition to a simple, striking choice of words, the emphasis on belonging to a group plays a special role. In order to create a sense of community, one's own group is presented as the only true one. Other groups are devalued and excluded. Creating a mood against enemy images, some of which are not even real, is one of the most important stylistic devices in populism.

Populist conversation strategies: Identify and counter

Populist conversation strategies: Identify and counter

In online discussions, the question "Are you for us or against us?" constantly resonates. Fears and emotions are stoked, dissent is seen as betrayal. Discussions based on facts become almost impossible. Populism thus plays an important role in fomenting hatred and dividing society.

Recognize populism and make discussions more constructive!

Populism is also often used as a stylistic device in the comment columns of many online networks. But how can I recognize a populist comment? And how can I react to it without falling into the populism trap myself?

Populist comments almost always follow a pattern. If you know the most common ones, it's easy to distinguish a populist comment from a factual one. And it’s easier to respond to them constructively. Here are the most common ones:


"If no one dares, then I'll say it..." - is how comments often begin that want to raise their authors as "taboo breakers". An unobjective comment is posted under the pretext that everyone thinks so and are just not brave enough to write it.

A good way to deal with this is to reveal the strategy behind it, for example: "You think that many people think like you, but don't dare to say anything. I am sure that only a few people agree with you."

By the way, victim rhetoric works very similarly. In this case, authors post insulting or exclusionary comments in order to then style themselves as the leading victims of counter-comments, whose freedom of opinion is restricted. Victim rhetoric can usually be recognized by phrases like: "I think it must be fair to say that."

1001 other topic

Have you experienced that on social media? The post is about one topic - the replies are about completely different ones. The authors jump from Corona vaccinations to old-age poverty, to Europe and to climate change. How and to what else should one react?

The most important thing with this strategy: Don't get bogged down! Instead, it's better to pick out one aspect that you want to address: "That's quite a lot of topics you're addressing here. Let me respond to the issue of climate change: ..."

A similar strategy to divert the discussion from the actual topic is Whataboutism. As the name suggests, it is usually prefaced with the phrase "But what about...".

Scare Tactics

Ignore problems that seem unsolvable! That's how the reasoning works with "scare tactics." And if they are not unsolvable, nevertheless you can present them in such a way. This serves as a justification not to face the problem, but to do exactly the opposite - as long as it is possible.

Clarification helps against scare tactics: "You seem to be dealing with the issue a lot, but seem hopeless. Studies show that you can very well change things. For example, this one: ....". Or taking a stand: "I disagree: I think that .....".

Not every reaction fits everyone. Creativity is explicitly allowed! But it is the responsibility of all of us to engage in more constructive dialogues and not to let populist comments stand uncommented – online but also in the analog world. Have the courage and try it out! Digital civil courage can be learned.

280668-Hass im Netz - nachdenkliche Emotionen

Behind bars for hate on the internet!?

The internet is not a lawless space. An offline crime is also online a crime. This information is not new. Nevertheless, it does not stop haters from writing insulting, discriminatory or hurtful comments.