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Fake News has a Mode of Truth

Uptown Campus
Newcomb Hall

Featuring Prof. Meg Stalcup

On the night that determined Brazil’s 2018 elections, the new president-elect Jair Bolsonaro gave two speeches. First, he did a video ‘live’ for his followers on Facebook, where he spoke in defense of God and family, and against the corporate news media, and the political left. Streaming ended, he went outside to the waiting journalists. There, he promised open markets and that he would respect the Constitution. The split paralleled that of the campaign itself, much of which took place on social media. Paid marketers and ideologically motivated collaborators carried out a frenetic online campaign of computational propaganda in the highly monetized digital bubble of the president’s followers. Memes, audios, and videos were shared, along with links to self-declared news sites, YouTube channels, and invitations to join more groups. Within this digital sphere, administrators actively worked to mobilize “us” against “them,” and also to foster a sense of direct connection to candidates, and of belonging. Drawing on fieldwork in person, using specialized platforms, and within multiple right and left-wing messaging groups, this talk looks at how computational propaganda works and the ways it stokes digital populism. These processes have been blamed on rise of “fake news.” Yet rather than a lack of facts, or even a cynical disbelief in their possibility, what participants in the digital sphere experience is an excess of competing ones. This points to the critical need to move beyond denunciations to better understand contemporary modes of truth. 

Communication Department