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Jessica Valisa Image 2020PhD candidate

Thesis topic: Pro-Russian Discourse of the Italian Far-Right Online. A Case Study of the Reception of Authoritarian State-Led Strategic Narratives

Supervisors: Associate Professor James Headley, Dr Chris Rudd



This study examines the reception and elaboration of authoritarian state-led strategic narratives spread online that aim at influencing public opinion abroad to understand why they are positively received, especially by people close to the extremes of the political spectrum.

Existing scholarship has analysed such novel propaganda efforts but has tended to neglect how and why such ideas are enticing to some. Such a topic is particularly urgent since such practices, when successful, could foster polarisation, thus threatening the stability of democratic systems.

To examine this phenomenon, this thesis uses a case study of far-right pro-Russian narratives on the Italian language online space. The bulk of the data consists of website articles and tweets collected online through web scraping.

The study employs a mixed-methods approach. Qualitative methods, and especially thematic discourse analysis, are used to understand the reasons for the adoption of such narratives. Quantitative text analysis methods reveal consistent word patterns present in the texts, validating the results of the qualitative analysis.

The results emphasise how such strategic narratives should be understood as part of a broader transnational phenomenon. Such narratives are appositely crafted with the aim of steering the attitudes of those who are being affected by the cultural changes that have occurred in the West in the last few decades and significantly rely on the anti-modern discourse developed by the contemporary transnational far-right. Moreover, they also tend to create online communities centred around this type of discourse which are highly receptive to it and resistant to criticism[JH1] .

The results of this study illuminate the importance of understanding the reception of strategic narratives to potentially develop conceptual tools that could help countering its effects.