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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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1. Brexit, Trump, ‘Hung Parliaments’, and the Collapse of Public Trust

Extract

Two cataclysmic political events with far-reaching and ongoing consequences occurred on opposite sides the Atlantic in 2016. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America and the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) after 40 years of membership, referred to as Brexit, redefined politics and public communication in two of the world’s leading democracies.

The June 2016 vote by UK citizens to leave the EU against the strong recommendation and confident campaigning of the government shocked the ruling Conservative Party and the then Prime Minister David Cameron, who subsequently resigned. It was even unexpected by many involved in the Leave campaign including Brexiter Boris Johnson, who later became Prime Minister. It was also contrary to the predictions of most polls and opinion surveys. For example, the 2016 British Social Attitudes survey published just a few weeks before the referendum reported that 60% of UK citizens were in favour of remaining a member of the EU and only 30% supported Britain’s withdrawal.1

Donald Trump was regarded as unelectable by both the Republican and Democratic parties and by almost all pollsters and political pundits. His election shocked the world. Francis Fukuyama, who in 1992 argued that American ←31 | 32→democracy would be adopted globally as a model political system, wrote: “Donald Trump’s evolution from a buffoonish fringe candidate taken seriously by no one to the President-Elect of the United States is one of the most unexpected and traumatic...

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