Fake news is not new, but the American presidential election in 2016 placed the phenomenon squarely onto the international agenda. Manipulation, disinformation, falseness, rumors, conspiracy theories—actions and behaviors that are frequently associated with the term—have existed as long as humans have communicated. Nevertheless, new communication technologies have allowed for new ways to produce, distribute, and consume fake news, which makes it harder to differentiate what information to trust. Fake news has typically been studied along four lines: Characterization, creation, circulation, and countering. How to characterize fake news has been a major concern in the research literature, as the definition of the term is disputed. By differentiating between intention and facticity, researchers have attempted to study different types of false information. Creation concerns the production of fake news, often produced with either a financial, political, or social motivation. The circulation of fake news refers to the different ways false information has been disseminated and amplified, often through communication technologies such as social media and search engines. Lastly, countering fake news addresses the multitude of approaches to detect and combat fake news on different levels, from legal, financial, and technical aspects to individuals’ media and information literacy and new fact-checking services.
Masato Kajimoto and Jennifer Fleming
News literacy is an emerging field within the disciplines of media literacy, journalism education, information technology, and other related areas, although there is no unified definition or consensus among researchers as to what exactly the news literacy curriculum should entail. Its core mission is broadly recognized as “citizen empowerment” in that the critical-thinking skills necessary to the evaluation of news reports and the ability to identify fact-based, quality information encourage active participation and engagement among well-informed citizens. One dominant instructional paradigm, which some researchers refer to as the “journalism school approach,” emerged in the mid-2000s and distinguished “news literacy” from its longer-recognized counterpart, media literacy. Lessons in news literacy classrooms focus exclusively on the deconstruction of news content. While news literacy often shares many of its analytical goals and theoretical frameworks with media literacy education, it also contains specialized pedagogical methods specific to the process of news production, which are not applicable to other types of media content. Despite some heated discussions among scholars, particularly in the United States, with different standpoints on whether this pedagogy is more or less effective than the approaches taken by media literacy educators, the difference between the two and other related fields, such as digital literacy and web literacy, is often ambiguous because in practice, neither discipline is particularly standardized and each instructor’s understanding of the field, as well as their academic training, has a significant impact on students’ learning experiences. Globally, the debate over the—often subtle—nuances that differentiate these various approaches have even less significance, as educators around the world translate and adapt news literacy concepts to fit the unique circumstances and environments found in their own country’s news media, political, and technological environments. Perhaps the most pressing issue in the current state of news literacy is a lack of a cohesive body of peer-reviewed research, or in particular, a research design that appropriately measures the efficacy of educational models. News literacy studies grounded in social science methods are limited. Scholarship on critical news instruction and skill development, which has been traditionally conducted under the umbrella of media literacy, is mostly comprised of descriptive accounts of educational interventions or self-reported surveys on media attitudes, content consumption behaviors, or analytical skills. In the United States, a body of quantitative work based on an assessment instrument called a “news media literacy scale” has influenced how researchers can contextualize and measure news literacy, and some qualitative analyses shed light on specific pedagogical models. Interest in educational intervention and related research has increased rather dramatically since 2016 as global concerns over “post-truth” media consumption and the “fake news” phenomena have become part of academic discourse in different disciplines. Collaborative works among scholars and practitioners in the areas that could potentially inform the design of effective news literacy curriculum development, such as cognitive science, social psychology, and social media data analysis, have started to emerge as well.
November 2015 became a key date in the history of Argentina as former president Cristina Fernandez’ party lost the national elections by the narrowest of margins, less than 700,000 votes, to the right-wing candidate Mauricio Macri, ending a twelve-year run of one of the most progressive governments in the history of Argentina. Many analysts argue that large media conglomerates, especially the Clarín Group, played a significant role in the process leading to political change. Macri supporters in the city of Buenos Aires provided some reasons for their decision to vote for Macri and against Daniel Scioli, who ran on Fernandez’ party ticket. Their answers seem to be influenced by a series of fake news (misleading news articles) published by Clarín and La Nación, two leading news organizations in Argentina, during the months before the national elections. These misleading news stories were published in the front pages of those newspapers and at prime time in their affiliate TV and radio stations. Corrections and retractions rarely appeared in the front pages or prime time. Macri voters came to accept the initial news as legitimate and were influenced by them during the 2015 presidential election. Considering the insignificant margin of votes deciding the election, it can be argued that the two news organizations may have been instrumental in shaping the perceptions of just enough voters to swing the results in Macri’s favor. This suggests that dominant mainstream media have had a significant influence on voters’ attitudes and that this may explain in part the election’s outcome.
Ran Wei and Larry Zhiming Xu
The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.
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.
David Bawden and Lyn Robinson
For almost as long as there has been recorded information, there has been a perception that humanity has been overloaded by it. Concerns about “too much to read” have been expressed for many centuries, and made more urgent since the arrival of ubiquitous digital information in the late 20th century. The historical perspective is a necessary corrective to the often, and wrongly, held view that it is associated solely with the modern digital information environment and with social media in particular. However, as society fully experiences Floridi’s Fourth Revolution, and moves into hyper-history (with society dependent on, and defined by, information and communication technologies) and the infosphere (an information environment distinguished by a seamless blend of online and offline information activity), individuals and societies are dependent on and formed by information in an unprecedented way, and information overload needs to be taken more seriously than ever. Overload has been claimed to be both the major issue of our time and a complete nonissue. It has, as will be noted later, been noted as an important factor in many areas, including politics and governance. It has been cited as an important factor in a wide range of areas, from business to literature. The information overload phenomenon has been known by many different names, including: information overabundance, infobesity, infoglut, data smog, information pollution, information fatigue, social media fatigue, social media overload, information anxiety, library anxiety, infostress, infoxication, reading overload, communication overload, cognitive overload, information violence, and information assault. There is no single generally accepted definition, but it can best be understood as the situation that arises when there is so much relevant and potentially useful information available that it becomes a hindrance rather than a help. Its essential nature has not changed with evolving technology, although its causes and proposed solutions have changed significantly. The best ways of avoiding overload, individually and socially, appear to lie in a variety of coping strategies, such as filtering, withdrawing, queuing, and “satisficing.” Better design of information systems, effective personal information management, and the promotion of digital and media literacies also have a part to play. Overload may perhaps best be overcome by seeking a mindful balance in consuming information and in finding understanding.