Aspects of the New Media Culture of Indeterminacy: Key Challenges for Communication Research by Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Communication in the Department of Communication and Media at Loughborough University
The political theorist Hannah Arendt once said that “A people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its own mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.” (Interview, New York Review of Books, October 26, 1978). Arendt’s well-known revisionist account of propaganda shifted the focus away from “indoctrination” and toward the role of cynicism and quiescence in sustaining authoritarianism. If uncertainty becomes a systemic feature of our media systems, we are likely to lose trust—in each other, in the institutions that inform and represent us, and, ultimately, in the democratic process. In the long term, the general expectation that little of what is available online can be trusted may contribute to an attitudinal spiral that “anything goes”—a new culture of indeterminacy that may further diminish individuals’ sense of accountability for the information they share. At the elite level, such a culture may also enable deceitful politicians to claim that nothing can be proved in a public sphere characterized by chaos, distrust, and cynicism. New opportunities will emerge for politicians to campaign on promises to restore “order” and “certainty” through illiberal policies curtailing free speech and other civil rights. How should communication researchers respond to these challenges?
Andrew Chadwick is Professor of Political Communication in the Department of Communication and Media at Loughborough University, where he is also the founding Director of the Online Civic Culture Centre (O3C). His latest book is The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (OUP, Second Edition). His next book is Social Media and the Future of Democracy (OUP) www.andrewchadwick.com