Right-wing media’s rendering of Ro: Media, misinformation, and affective contagion

By: Benjamin Bandosz


Volume: 07
Issue: 01:2021
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2021.0005
Pages: 67-88
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Affect theory
Non-discursive model



The election of Donald Trump in 2016 signaled a definite shift in the global spread of a new nationalist, populist, racist, political Right. This sweeping trend was fuelled and is sustained by social media’s vast networks that disseminate (mis)information and efface the subject’s body by mediating reality through digital interfaces. Intensified right-wing news media and politics mutate the socio-semiotics of digital networks, rendering affective slogans that destabilize language and inform user subjectivity. Facebook re-posts and 4chan memes re-articulate refrains chanted at rallies, such as “Stop the steal,” intensifying their affective resonance and causing them to speak in and through subjects, rather than being spoken by them, engendering incorporeal transformations on bodies in the sociopolitical field. Stripped of semantic meaning and referential reality, these slogans operate through affect to produce collective phantasies that channel users’ unchecked desires. These slogans affectively interpellate users by pulling apart their individuation, weaving them into endless threads, sites, and networks that amplify and spread fascistic imaginaries of a Great America under Trump, the God-Emperor. Slogans’ affects and their resulting phantasies function as coefficients of digital networks’ innumerable connections, exponentially proliferating and catalyzing microfascisms via ever-multiplying rhizomatic connections – a sociopolitical recalibration of the Ro formula models these affective transmissions, a calculation otherwise used to measure a disease’s potential transmission among a vulnerable population. The affective intensification and spread of right-wing discourses were a prelude to the Covid-19 pandemic and function in tandem. As economic shutdowns and stay-at-home orders augment financial precarity and digitize quotidian life, media networks intensify the spread of (mis)information among susceptible users, leading to anti-mask protests, political rallies, and unsafe work environments that, in turn, increase Covid-19 cases. Right-wing media’s affective, digital contagion and the Covid-19 pandemic produce a feedback loop of transmission, mutually amplifying their Ro values as both mutate and spread.


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