[Air-L] CFP: Beyond Fake News: The Politics of Disinformation (special issue)

Deen Freelon dfreelon at gmail.com
Fri Mar 16 10:49:17 PDT 2018

Hi all,

Chris Wells (UW-Madison) and I are coediting a special issue of the 
journal /Political Communication /focusing on disinformation. The 
deadline is Oct 1, 2018. The link is http://tiny.cc/polcom-disinfo and 
the full call is below. Thought there'd be some interest from some of 
you who I know are working on these issues. Best, /DEEN


*Beyond fake news: The politics of disinformation*

Special Issue of /Political Communication/

Editors: Deen Freelon & Chris Wells

Discussions of “fake news” rose to prominence quickly in academic and 
journalistic circles following the 2016 US presidential election. 
Scholars were quick to note the analytical deficiencies of this term, 
which encompasses a wide range of low-quality and potentially harmful 
news-like content (Wardle, 2017). The special issue we propose will 
focus on one such subtype, /disinformation/, whose political 
implications have become particularly pressing after the election. 
Although much disinformation is false, this is not its defining 
characteristic: rather, disinformation intentionally seeks to bring 
about a desired result using whatever messages are most effective, which 
can include truth, falsehoods, distortions, and inflammatory opinions. 
It is a type of propaganda in which the true source is usually kept 
hidden and the goal is often “to engender public cynicism, uncertainty, 
apathy, distrust, and paranoia” (Jackson, 2017, n.p.). It should not be 
confused with /mis/information, wherein sources believe the content to 
be true.

While disinformation has been a standard military tactic for millennia 
(Weedon, Nuland, & Stamos, 2017), it has become especially relevant in 
global politics for several reasons. First, the decades-long, worldwide 
decline in news trust and democratic institutions in general has made 
publics more open to messages from disingenuous yet 
ideologically-friendly sources. Second, the maturation of social media 
as political media has given such sources a highly effective platform to 
spread their messages cheaply and quickly. President Donald Trump’s 
embrace of disinformation outlets on Twitter (not to mention his 
frequent use of the term “fake news”) demonstrates that elites are as 
susceptible as ordinary citizens. Third, until very recently, social 
media companies did not take disinformation seriously, which allowed it 
to thrive with impunity. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg initially discounted 
the importance of “fake news” before later affirming it, and the company 
stated that it failed to identify political ads surreptitiously 
purchased by the Russian government and targeted at US citizens 
(Leonnig, Hamburger, & Helderman, 2017). For its part, Twitter for years 
allowed accounts operated by Kremlin-funded disinformation agents to 
impersonate legitimate American political actors (O’Brien, 2017).

While communication researchers have developed a focus on misinformation 
in recent years (see e.g. Bode & Vraga, 2015; Nyhan, 2010; Weeks, 2015), 
the study of disinformation within our field is in its infancy (for a 
pioneering study, see Marwick & Lewis, 2017). But the developments 
outlined above suggest the topic deserves much more scholarly attention 
in contexts around the globe, especially from the field of 
communication. The circulation of claims intended to sow discord and 
subvert democratic participation is alarming to the extent that their 
purveyors may succeed. What is more, the potential effects of 
disinformation may radiate far beyond those directly exposed to it. The 
possibility that any unknown participant in a media environment may be a 
disinformation agent may itself be weaponized: for example, both the 
left and right have alleged that the other side has used “paid 
protesters” or “crisis actors” in various contexts, such as the recent 
high school shooting in Florida. Ultimately, we should study 
disinformation because it undermines the fundamental assumptions of 
authentic identity and motivation that make productive political 
communication possible. And it is likely that disinformation will remain 
a core component of our political communication system for the 
foreseeable future. Thus, political communication researchers are 
especially well-positioned to analyze and explain the political 
dimensions of disinformation, as researchers in other fields often 
neglect to address these matters.

We seek papers that explore disinformation as a political phenomenon in 
accordance with the preceding, whether digital or not. Quantitative, 
qualitative, conceptual, and methodological submissions are all welcome, 
but all should make a substantial contribution to theory. Possible 
topics include (but are not limited to):

  * Disinformation and information automation (e.g.,
    disinformation-spreading bots)
  * Disinformation in comparative perspective
  * Disinformation in the hybrid media system and attention economy
  * Effects and consequences of disinformation
  * Historical perspectives on disinformation
  * Individual differences in susceptibility to disinformation
  * Theorizing disinformation
  * Typologizing disinformation: Understanding differences between
    state-sponsored, corporate, domestic, and transnational disinformation

All submissions should run between 6000 and 8000 words and follow 
/Political Communication/’s style guidelines. We will review and publish 
on the following schedule:

  * March 2018: Call opens
  * *October 1, 2018*: Initial submission deadline
  * November 2018: Reviews returned
  * 2019: Revision deadline, final decision notifications, and publication


Bode, L., & Vraga, E. K. (2015). In Related News, That Was Wrong: The 
Correction of Misinformation Through Related Stories Functionality in 
Social Media. /Journal of Communication/, /65/(4), 619–638. 

Jackson, D. (2017, October 17). Issue Brief: Distinguishing 
Disinformation from Propaganda, Misinformation, and “Fake News” – 
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from 

Leonnig, C. D., Hamburger, T., & Helderman, R. S. (2017, September 6). 
Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook 
during election. /Washington Post/. Retrieved from 

Marwick, A., & Lewis, R. (2017). /Media Manipulation and Disinformation 
Online/ (pp. 1–104). Data and Society Research Institute. Retrieved from 

Nyhan, B. (2010). Why the “Death Panel” Myth Wouldn’t Die: 
Misinformation in the Health Care Reform Debate. /The Forum/, /8/(1). 

O’Brien, L. (2017, November 1). Twitter Ignored This Russia-Controlled 
Account During The Election. Team Trump Did Not. /Huffington Post/. 
Retrieved from 

Wardle, C. (2017, February 16). Fake news. It’s complicated. Retrieved 
March 15, 2018, from 

Weedon, J., Nuland, W., & Stamos, A. (2017). /Information Operations and 
Facebook/ (pp. 1–13). Facebook. Retrieved from 

Weeks, B. E. (2015). Emotions, Partisanship, and Misperceptions: How 
Anger and Anxiety Moderate the Effect of Partisan Bias on Susceptibility 
to Political Misinformation. /Journal of Communication/, /65/(4), 
699–719. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12164

Deen Freelon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
School of Media and Journalism, UNC-Chapel Hill
http://dfreelon.org | @dfreelon <https://twitter.com/dfreelon> | 

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