July 14, 2023 | El País

Q&A with Julia Ebner: We’re at the beginning of the “digital Middle Ages”

ISD Senior Resident Research Fellow Julia Ebner spoke to El País‘s Jordi Pérez Colomé about gateways into extremist ideology, technology’s role in mainstreaming extremism and her new book Going Mainstream: How Extremists are Taking Over.

“What I’ve seen is that – since COVID – [much of] the population in liberal democracies has become more susceptible to extremist ideas and conspiracies. It seems that some of them feel abandoned – they feel that there’s too much going on. They see themselves in rebellion against what they would call a ‘woke’ culture, [one that’s] too politically correct.” She added that other crises such as inflation or the rise in cost-of-living are all deep frustrations that have prompted individuals to turn to these ideologies and theories, many often serving as gateways into greater conspiracies.

Julia has been researching extremist movements and ideologies since 2015 and explained the combination in crises has fuelled the exponential growth of extremism: “we’ve had new technologies that were disruptive, but there was a lag, either in the way we responded to them, or in the way some of them caused chaos. This even happened with the invention of the printing press, or radio – the radio was exploited by the Nazis, for example. New technologies have that potential. Today, we’re seeing this high-tech disruption, in addition to wars and diseases. That combination of factors is something I don’t think we’ve seen so far.”

“If we continue on the path we’re on, the history books of the future – if, hopefully, there are any – could speak of the 2020s as the beginning of the digital Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages,” she said. “We’re seeing a return to myths, which is the exact opposite of what the Enlightenment reversed. It’s a very dangerous path.”

The full interview is available here.