Until the last few years, the vast majority of theorizing about the political
implications of online social networking capacities tended to assume that
new communications media would empower progressive forces against the
undemocratic tendencies in industrialized countries. However, the election
of Donald Trump, the electoral success of similar political movements in other capitalist democracies, and the rise to prominence of the so-called ‘alt-right’ in numerous online spaces constitute a development that requires re-examination of much of the common wisdom about social media and politics. This essay explores why earlier optimistic theory cannot explain why reactionary ideas have been so politically successful in the world of social media.