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Beyond Post-Communication

Challenging Disinformation, Deception, and Manipulation

Jim Macnamara

While many analyses have examined disinformation in recent election campaigns, misuse of ‘big data’ such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and manipulation by bots and algorithms, most have blamed a few bad actors. This incisive analysis presents evidence of deeper and broader corruption of the public sphere, which the author refers to as post-communication. With extensive evidence, Jim Macnamara argues that we are all responsible for the slide towards a post-truth society. This analysis looks beyond high profile individuals such as Donald Trump, Russian trolls, and even ‘Big Tech’ to argue that the professionalized communication industries of advertising, PR, political and government communication, and journalism, driven by clickbait and aided by a lack of critical media literacy, have systematically contributed to disinformation, deception, and manipulation. When combined with powerful new communication technologies, artificial intelligence, and lack of regulation, this has led to a ‘perfect data storm’. Accordingly, Macnamara proposes that there is no single solution. Rather, he identifies a range of strategies for communication professionals, industry associations, media organizations and platforms, educators, legislators, regulators, and citizens to challenge post-communication and post-truth.
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Introduction

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Warnings of political and social decline, and even collapse, are not uncommon and, when considered in context, many are found to be unwarranted, exaggerated, or at least premature. In the 1990s, Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone1 warned of a decline in social interaction and participation that create what Pierre Bourdieu called social capital2 and which he described as necessary for citizens to live fulfilling lives and for a healthy democracy. While Putnam drew attention to important social issues, citizens living in developed countries today are more educated and are potentially more connected than ever before. As Bill Gates wrote as guest editor of an issue of TIME magazine in January 2018: “On the whole, the world is getting better.” Gates cited a number of statistics including:

Look at the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. Since 1990, that figure has been cut in half … In 1990, more than a third of the global population lived in extreme poverty; today only about a tenth do … More than 90% of all children in the world attend primary school.3

Gates was not attempting to gild the lily and claim that the world does not face significant problems—indeed the foundation that he co-founded is engaged in addressing many major social, economic, health, and education issues around the world. But he was cautioning against unwarranted pessimism and doomsday ←1 | 2→thinking that arise as a result of unbalanced reporting and a lack of historical perspective.

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