Celebrity politicians are having a profound impact on the practice of politics within the United States and United Kingdom in the 21st century. With the adoption of social media platforms, celebrity and image candidates have deployed new strategies for attracting constituents. Taken together, the proliferation of celebrity politics and the ubiquity of digital platforms have fostered a unique atmosphere in the contemporary political moment, wherein “outsider” candidates may leverage their fame to launch themselves into the public spotlight. In turn, through their celebrity brands and digital presence both populists such as the U.S. President Donald Trump and left-wing leaders including U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have established an “authenticity” in which they “occupy” a public space to define their candidacies. Consequently, as celebrities and image candidates promote political agendas among target audiences/citizens, it is necessary to reflect upon their significance in election campaigns, policy agendas, and activism.
The focus of intergroup communication research in the Baltic countries is on interethnic relations. All three countries have Russian-speaking urban minorities whose process of integration with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian majorities has been extensively studied. During the Soviet era when the Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic countries were formed, they enjoyed majority status and privileges. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a status reversal as Russian speakers become minorities in the newly emerged national states. The integration of once monolingual Russian-speaking communities has been the major social challenge for the Baltic states, particularly for Estonia and Latvia where they constitute about 30% of the population. Besides the Russian-speaking minorities, each of the Baltic countries has also one other significant minority. In Estonia it is Võro, a linguistically closely related group to Estonians; in Latvia it is Latgalians, closely related to Latvians; and in Lithuania, it is the Polish minority. Unlike the Russian-speaking urban minorities of fairly recent origin, the other minorities are largely rural and native in their territories. The intergroup communication between the majorities and Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic countries has often analyzed by a triadic nexus consisting of the minority, the nationalizing state, and the external homeland (Russia). In recent analyses, the European Union (through its institutions) has often been added as an additional player. The intergroup communication between the majorities and the Russian-speaking communities is strongly affected by conflicting collective memories over 20th-century history. While the titular nations see the Soviet time as occupation, the Russian speakers prefer to see the positive role of the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler and reconstructing the countries’ economy. These differences have resulted in some symbolic violence such as relocation of the Bronze Soldier monument in Estonia and the riots that it provoked. Recent annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the role of the Ukrainian Russian speakers in the secessionist war in the Eastern Ukraine have raised fears that Russia is trying to use its influence over its compatriots in the Baltic countries for similar ends. At the same time, the native minorities of Võro and Latgalians are going through emancipation and have demanded more recognition. This movement is seen by some among the Estonian and Latvian majorities as attempts to weaken the national communities that are already in trouble with integrating the Russian speakers. In Lithuania, some historical disagreements exist also between the Lithuanians and Polish, since the area of their settlement around capital Vilnius used to be part of Poland before World War II. The Baltic setting is particularly interesting for intergroup communication purposes, since the three countries have several historical parallels: the Russian-speaking communities have fairly similar origin, but different size and prominence, as do the titular groups. These differences in the power balance between the majority and minority have been one of the major factors that have motivated different rhetoric by the nationalizing states, which has resulted in noticeably different outcomes in each setting.
While the periodizing concept “post-truth” (PT) initially appeared in the United States as a key word of popular politics in the form “post-truth politics” or “post-truth society,” it quickly appeared in many languages. It is now the object of increasing scholarly attention and public debate. Its popular and academic treatments sometimes differ in respect to its meaning, but most associate it with communication forms such as fake or false news, rumors, hoaxes, and political lying. They also identify causes such as polarization and unethical politicians or unregulated social media; shoddy journalism; or simply the inevitable chaos ushered in by digital media technologies. PT is sometimes posited as a social and political condition whereby citizens or audiences and politicians no longer respect truth (e.g., climate science deniers or “birthers”) but simply accept as true what they believe or feel. However, more rigorously, PT is actually a breakdown of social trust, which encompasses what was formerly the major institutional truth-teller or publicist—the news media. What is accepted as popular truth is really a weak form of knowledge, opinion based on trust in those who supposedly know. Critical communication approaches locate its historical legacy in the earliest forms of political persuasion and questions of ethics and epistemology, such as those raised by Plato in the Gorgias. While there are timeless similarities, PT is a 21st-century phenomenon. It is not “after” truth but after a historical period where interlocking elite institutions were discoverers, producers, and gatekeepers of truth, accepted by social trust (the church, science, governments, the school, etc.). Critical scholars have identified a more complex historical set of factors, to which popular proposed solutions have been mostly blind. Modern origins of PT lie in the anxious elite negotiation of mass representative liberal democracy with proposals for organizing and deploying mass communication technologies. These elites consisted of pioneers in the influence or persuasion industries, closely associated with government and political practice and funding, and university research. These influence industries were increasingly accepted not just by business but also by (resource-rich) professional political actors. Their object was not policy education and argument to constituents but, increasingly strategically, emotion and attention management. PT can usefully be understood in the context of its historical emergence, through its popular forms and responses, such as rumors, conspiracies, hoaxes, fake news, fact-checking, and filter bubbles, as well as through its multiple effects—not the least of which the discourse of panic about it.
The public sphere is a social entity with an important function and powerful effects in modern, democratic societies. The idea of the public sphere rests on the conviction that people living in a society, regardless of their age, gender, religion, economic or social status, professional position, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or nationality, should be able to publicly express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about issues that matter to them and impact their lives. This expression should be as free as possible in form and function and should operate through means and methods that people themselves deem suitable, so not via channels that are official or state-sanctioned. The classic Habermasian idea of the public sphere is that it is used by private individuals (not officials or politicians) who should be able to converse with each other in a public-spirited way to develop opinions that impact state or public-body decisions and policies. Also contained within this classic idea is the conviction that public sphere conversations should be rational (i.e., logical, evidence-based, and properly motivated and argued using an acceptable set of rhetorical devices) in order to convince others of the usefulness of a position, statement, or opinion. In commonsensical, political, and journalistic understandings, the public sphere is a critical component of a democracy that enables ordinary citizens to act as interlocutors to those who hold power and thereby hold them to account. As such it is one of the elements whereby democracy as a system is able to claim legitimacy as the “rule of the people.” Journalism’s imbrication in the social imaginary of the public sphere dates back to 17th- and 18th-century Europe when venues like coffee houses, clubs, and private homes, and media like newspapers and newsletters were being used by a mixture of gentry, nobility, and an emerging middle class of traders and merchants and other educated thinkers to disseminate information and express ideas. The conviction that journalism was the key vehicle for the conveyance of information and ideas of public import was then imbedded in the foundations of the practice of modern journalism and in the form exported from Western Europe to the rest of the world. Journalism’s role as a key institution within and vehicle of the public sphere was thus born. Allied to this was the conviction that journalism, via this public sphere role and working on behalf of the public interest (roughly understood as the consensus of opinions formed in the public sphere), should hold political, social, and economic powers to account. Journalists are therefore understood to be crucial proxies for the millions of people in a democracy who cannot easily wield on their own the collective voices that journalism with its institutional bases can produce.