The Fake News Debate and its Consequences
Reports on the coronavirus as a Chinese bioweapon or the 'Pizzagate' theory demonstrate that fake news is one of the most widely discussed topics in political communication. Although it is clear that fake news is a problem, it is less clear what it actually means. Jana Laura Egelhofer started her doctoral programme in 2017 as part of the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences (ViDSS) at the University of Vienna to take a closer look at the current debate surrounding the term 'fake news'.
Vienna Doctoral Schools
To conduct research on this highly topical and socially relevant topic she chose the Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences, "The University of Vienna has a great reputation and a lot of internationally recognised supervisors." The ViDSS aims for the highest standards in doctoral training and close supervision to ensure that its candidates are well versed in social science debates and relevant theories and methods. Find out more about the Vienna Doctoral Schools.
Populist political communication strategies
In her research, she differentiates between two conceptually different phenomena: the fake news genre (i.e. deliberate creation of pseudo-journalistic disinformation) and the fake news label (i.e. the political instrument to delegitimise news media). She furthermore argues that the latter represents a broader, worrying trend: increasing attempts by political actors to delegitimise journalism. This trend is connected to populist political communication strategies.
Fake news and its consequences
While most scholarly interest focuses on the prevalence and effects of disinformation, the discursive construction of fake news as a label to delegitimise journalism can be equally disrupting for democracies, explains Egelhofer. "We know that the rhetoric of politicians has a great potential to shape public opinion", explains the young scientist, "When politicians describe factual news coverage as fake news, it has consequences for how trustworthy people perceive the media and to what degree they believe the information provided by them."
Research every day
Jana Laura Egelhofer is spending most of her time reading, collecting data and writing journal articles. In her multi-method dissertation, she addresses, for example, the question of how scholars can meaningfully use fake news by systematically reviewing the relevant literature. Furthermore, Jana Egelhofer conducts a quantitative content analysis of Austrian news articles about fake news, which shows that journalists have not only contributed to its salience in public discourse, but have also normalised and trivialised the phrase to describe anything that is 'false'. In just over 1.5 years, about 3000 news articles mentioning 'fake news' have appeared (in only eight newspapers). "For me, it is fascinating how one word can mean so many different things, depending on who uses it. It is an excellent reflection on how polarised and politicised today's understanding of news, facts, and even reality has become." (hm/bf)
Read more about Jana Laura Egelhofer's research in her recent publications.