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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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5. Strategies for a Communicative Society

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From five years of research that included interviewing senior professionals in journalism, marketing, advertising, public relations (PR), government communication, and politics, as well as scholars concerned about ethics, transparency, accountability, and protection of the public interest in these fields, it is clear that there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problems identified. This chapter identifies and discusses a number of strategies—10 in fact—to address disinformation, deception, and manipulation that are corrupting the public sphere in contemporary democratic societies. Each of these requires further research by specialists in those fields and each depends on engagement by professionals in relevant fields of practice and professional associations.

Some are not new proposals, as noted in the Introduction. However, setting them out side by side in this chapter draws attention to the interconnectedness and interdependency of the various actors in the processes of public communication and, therefore, the need for each to do their part. A holistic view and approach are necessary to identify all the relevant levers, as well as balance between strategies such as self-regulation and regulation and the responsibilities of consumers as well as producers of information.

The following discussion rejects neoliberalism and scientism that have led to thinking of people, progress, and social reality in terms of statistics and empirical ←173 | 174→data, such as employment rates, productivity, GDP growth, household income, and technological connectivity. Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis refer to “the destruction of a stranger’s life” by “not doubting for...

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