John Harris

Journalist & Author

All hail the hyperleaders – the bellicose insurgents using the web to seize control | John Harris

Boris Johnson longs to be one of the new breed of politicians, backed by an online ‘superbase’. But he is falling short

Back in the far-off days of Occupy and the Arab spring, we were told that the political future would be leaderless, “horizontal” – and defined by the egalitarian promise of social networks. But more than ever, any chance of political success now depends on charismatic, one-person leadership, and the crucial online currency of celebrity.

On the left, this is the age of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. On the right are Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini and the other figureheads of reactionary populism, whose most grimly fascinating example is probably Narendra Modi of India. All of these individuals present themselves as people from outside their countries’ establishments, and draw their energy from vast numbers of devoted supporters who gather online. In his own way, Boris Johnson clearly fancies his chances of becoming one of them. But more of that in a moment.

Their names are ‘repeated in social media and turned into hashtags, all of which becomes a rallying point for militancy’

Related: The Five Star experiment has failed us. Now Italy needs real political change | Francesco Grillo

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