A red figure resembling a Greek god emerges against a black background. The eyes are just two red laser points, the mouth is covered with a skull sticker. The dark, retro-look picture reads “Equality is a false god” or “Equality is a false god”. The picture was posted on Instagram, the name of the account suggests a German user account. In addition to the angry-looking Greek god, there are other dark, but at the same time gaudy images, mostly guns or skulls can be seen. The representations often call for a fight against modernity or are underlaid with statements such as “The world is ours”.
The hashtag “Fashwave” can almost always be found under these images; over 20,000 posts are gathered under this term on Instagram. Fashwave is derived from the English words “fascism” and “wave”. It is an online trend that right-wing users are trying to get their content across on social media. The colorful aesthetics hide problematic messages that are intended to reach young men in particular.
“Fashwave deliberately wants to evoke nostalgia and combine it with right-wing extremist ideas.”
According to a report by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Fashwave refers directly to a 2010s music genre called Vaporwave, a mixture of electronic synthwave and 80s disco music. Aesthetically, Vaporwave stands out with its neon colors, distorted images, antique statues and retro looks. It is a form of criticism of capitalism, the optics should deliberately irritate, in order to point out a feeling of the emptiness of the individual in a capitalist society. The feeling of nostalgia plays an especially important role. Fashwave tries to reinterpret this: While Vaporwave exposes nostalgia as a deceptive feeling in consumer society, “Fashwave deliberately wants to evoke nostalgia and combine it with right-wing extremist ideas”, as stated in the report by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which campaigns for the fight against right-wing extremism begins.
This type of aesthetic is part of an online propaganda of the right to spread its content on social media. One of the most important platforms is Instagram. Often the messages in the contributions are not immediately recognizable as clearly right-wing, so controversial statements mix with apparently apolitical, futuristic images. But there are also clear, right-wing extremist symbols such as the sun wheel.
The fact that the right is active in social media is nothing new. She keeps picking up on online trends in order to reach new target groups. For example, there are female influencers who use supposedly non-political, private accounts to convey a reactionary view of the world. Fashwave, on the other hand, is part of a global, ultra-real meme culture. Memes are media content mostly in the form of an image, text or video, in which different images and elements are brought together in a humorous, ironic or satirical way. They usually contain a socio-political message.
It’s about the rejection of modernity and the representation of classic male role models
Simon Strick has been grappling with various forms of digital fascism for a number of years. It is no coincidence that right-wing extremists use this type of communication, as the gender and media scientist describes, who has published the book “Right Feelings – Affects and Strategies of Digital Fascism”. “There is no ironic use of swastikas,” he says in an interview with the SZ. “We are dealing with very serious fascisms online that pretend to be hiding behind an ironic fascism. But little is hidden.” It can therefore be assumed that right-wing extremists deliberately choose memes, as their apparent ambiguity can often not be correctly assessed. At Fashwave, the central themes are a rejection of modernity and the representation of classic, male role models. Messages such as “Fight for your country” or “Civilization has failed” are repeatedly shown on the pictures of the contributions.
Simon Strick sees in Fashwave above all an aesthetic that tries with its contributions to convey the image of a “glorious past” that is to be projected into the future, as an alternative modernity. It is obvious to the scientist that the rightists at Fashwave are using an aesthetic from the 1980s: “For the digital actors, everything still seemed fine there, it was the last decade of unquestioned white masculinity, and the decade when the Internet was Limitless freedom was imaginable before large corporations resorted to it. “
The number of subscribers to certain Fashwave accounts is relatively small compared to other influencers
Veronika Kracher has been dealing with this way of conveying right-wing online propaganda for a number of years. She wrote the Amadeu Antonio Foundation report with two colleagues. For them, Fashwave essentially has two functions. On the one hand, right-wing content should be distributed using algorithms, on the other hand, an already radicalized, right-wing scene should feel strengthened in its image of the world and of itself. As with other online trends, it is difficult to judge how successful Fashwave is with it. If you take a look at the number of subscribers to certain Fashwave accounts, with a few thousand followers it is relatively few compared to other influencers. For Kracher, however, every subscriber is already one too many: “Every individual is exposed to right-wing extremist content and runs the risk of being radicalized online,” she says.
For Simon Strick, fashwave is an online trend that is part of a larger discursive change in which the right has managed to communicate reactionary and racist emotional states in a way that is suitable for the general public and to expand the limits of what can be said. The internet is a space of emotions and memes a form of communication that rights have made their own early on. “One should not only criticize Fashwave as an aesthetic, but above all understand the politics behind it,” says the media scientist.
Because Fashwave specifically tries to disguise content through irony and graphic elements. As with the spread of other forms of agitation on the Internet, a regulation via the platforms will not be enough. “The platforms have no political interest, but a commercial one,” says Strick. Since online trends like Fashwave are at the limits of what is criminal, a ban would not be an effective solution. Often fashwave contributions or other memes are not punishable at all because of their ambiguity. Right-wing channels would only look for other ways through bans. This is also noticeable with Fashwave. So you can always find accounts that are no longer displayed on Instagram, but still have a Telegram channel on which right-wing Fashwave memes are published.
One solution could be to make the identity offers of the right unattractive for young people
But what can be done to counter the dissemination of such articles? Simon Strick sees it as a civil society task to counter the emotional and visual worlds of the right and to pursue a different emotional politics. Specifically, that means: becoming active on social media yourself and producing alternative memes. According to the gender researcher, this task can only be taken on by a society that sees itself as fundamentally heterogeneous and diverse. Veronika Kracher also sees a long-term solution in making the identity offers of the right unattractive for young people. Until then, however, it is primarily a task of education policy to protect young people from such content. “It is important that young people learn to recognize the right visual language,” she says.
But not only young people should learn this, but also social media employees. Because the algorithms often do not recognize open right-wing extremist symbols such as the sun gear, says Kracher. At this point, the platform staff must take action. What is criminal should be reported and deleted. However, it is uncertain to what extent platforms such as Telegram will live up to this responsibility. Because to the question of where illegal content can be reported to the messenger service, the answer on their website is: “All telegram and group chats are the private matter of the respective users. We do not process any inquiries in this regard.”