Article

Recursion theory and the ‘death tax’: Investigating a fake news discourse in the 2019 Australian election

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the authors.

Abstract

Since the 2016 US federal election, political actors have weaponized online fake news as a means of gaining electoral advantage ( Egelhofer and Lecheler 2019 ). To advance understandings of the actors and methods involved in perpetuating fake news, this article focuses on an Australian story that circulated on and offline through different discourses during the 2019 federal election. We use content analyses of 100,000 media articles and eight million Facebook posts to trace false claims that the centre-left Labor party would introduce an inheritance tax dubbed a ‘death tax’ if it won office. To understand this evolution of ‘death tax’ discourse on and offline – and its weaponization by various actors – we draw from existing theorems of agenda setting, backfire effects, and propose our own recursion theory.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the authors.

Book
Full-text available
The increasing ineffectiveness of elections as an instrument of liberal democracies is linked to the development of electoral manipulation techniques. In the age of the Internet, both their institutional and, above all, their communicative forms are becoming increasingly effective, which has several fundamental sources. The first of these is the ability to collect and analyze large data sets (big data), making it possible to create models and algorithms that increase the likelihood of effectively influencing the electoral process and shaping voter attitudes and behaviors. Another cause is the personalization of politics and the associated mediatization of elections, which changes the nature of the political discourse from a rational one to one that appeals increasingly to emotions. From a programmatic/ideological discourse, it is evolving towards image-related aspects, as this new form guarantees greater effectiveness of campaign activities. Finally, moving mainstream political communication to the Internet has given politicians an easier and more economical opportunity to reach voters with personalized messages. It is characterized by a high level of calibration of the messages delivered, their form being most often adapted to the task-based definition of the recipient’s profile based on effective psychographic profiling. The undoubted crisis affecting elections as a democratic institution is merely one of the factors that have an adverse effect on political systems as a result of the emergence of the Internet. From the perspective of the early 2020s, however, it seems that the depth of the problems faced by contemporary democracies may substantiate the fact of their evolution towards a new political system, which may perhaps prevail in the world in the future, replacing the current liberal form. The latter arose from three interrelated planes: electoral competition and its institutional effect in the form of a pluralistic party system, a free market subject to varying degrees of state control (with the most important principle being respect for property), and the system of political organization of the society in the form of a nation state. All three areas are currently subject to great tensions, originating from systemic rather than ad hoc sources. It is therefore worth tracking their evolution, with particular emphasis on the changing role of the elections, which, as Adam Przeworski notes, continue to be the least bad method of power creation, despite their imperfect nature. However, unless the decline in their effectiveness as a tool of building fair political representation and political consensus can be halted, the crisis of democracy will continue to deepen. It is in fact difficult to imagine replacing them with an equally functional and socially acceptable procedure. Without free and fair elections, it would be a completely different political system.
Chapter
Full-text available
Article
Full-text available
Based on an extensive literature review, we suggest that ‘fake news’ alludes to two dimensions of political communication: the fake news genre (i.e. the deliberate creation of pseudojournalistic disinformation) and the fake news label (i.e. the instrumentalization of the term to delegitimize news media). While public worries about the use of the label by politicians are increasing, scholarly interest is heavily focused on the genre aspect of fake news. We connect the existing literature on fake news to related concepts from political communication and journalism research, present a theoretical framework to study fake news, and formulate a research agenda. Thus, we bring clarity to the discourse about fake news and suggest shifting scholarly attention to the neglected fake news label.
Article
Full-text available
Are citizens willing to accept journalistic fact-checks of misleading claims from candidates they support and to update their attitudes about those candidates? Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the effects of exposure to counter-attitudinal information. As fact-checking has become more prominent, it is therefore worth examining how respondents respond to fact-checks of politicians—a question with important implications for understanding the effects of this journalistic format on elections. We present results to two experiments conducted during the 2016 campaign that test the effects of exposure to realistic journalistic fact-checks of claims made by Donald Trump during his convention speech and a general election debate. These messages improved the accuracy of respondents’ factual beliefs, even among his supporters, but had no measurable effect on attitudes toward Trump. These results suggest that journalistic fact-checks can reduce misperceptions but often have minimal effects on candidate evaluations or vote choice.
Article
Full-text available
Fake news" has emerged as a global buzzword. While prominent media outlets, such as The New York Times, CNN, and Buzzfeed News, have used the term to designate misleading information spread online, President Donald Trump has used the term as a negative designation of these very "mainstream media." In this article, we argue that the concept of "fake news" has become an important component in contemporary political struggles. We show-case how the term is utilised by different positions within the social space as means of discrediting , attacking and delegitimising political opponents. Excavating three central moments within the construction of "fake news," we argue that the term has increasingly become a "floating signifier": a signifier lodged in-between different hegemonic projects seeking to provide an image of how society is and ought to be structured. By approaching "fake news" from the viewpoint of discourse theory, the paper reframes the current stakes of the debate and contributes with new insights into the function and consequences of "fake news" as a novel political category.
Article
Full-text available
This paper is based on a review of how previous studies have defined and operationalized the term “fake news.” An examination of 34 academic articles that used the term “fake news” between 2003 and 2017 resulted in a typology of types of fake news: news satire, news parody, fabrication, manipulation, advertising, and propaganda. These definitions are based on two dimensions: levels of facticity and deception. Such a typology is offered to clarify what we mean by fake news and to guide future studies.
Article
Full-text available
A frequent critique of contemporary journalism is that journalists rarely adjudicate factual disputes when covering politics; however, very little research has been done on the effects of such passive journalism on audiences. This study tests effects of active adjudication versus “he said/she said” journalism on a variety of outcomes, finding that adjudication can correct factual beliefs, increase perceived news quality, satisfy perceived informational needs, and increase the likelihood of future news use. However, for readers who were less interested in the issues under dispute, adjudication also reduced epistemic political efficacy, which is confidence in one's ability to find the truth in politics.
Article
Full-text available
2 Donald L. Shaw, a Senior Fellow for 1992–93 at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, is a Kenan Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Article
Full-text available
An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question. KeywordsMisperceptions-Misinformation-Ignorance-Knowledge-Correction-Backfire
Article
Modern campaigns in the Citizens United era are awash with negativity, much of which originates from independent political groups (e.g. Super PACs, 501c organizations, etc.). In contrast to the plethora of work showing candidate endorsed attacks to be ineffective, more recent experimental evidence suggests that candidates may benefit from these independently sourced attack ads. However, the findings derived from this experimental research on independent attacks suffer from three critical shortcomings. The present paper identifies and addresses these shortcomings by assessing the net result of candidate endorsed and independently sponsored negativity using real presidential campaign data. The following develops theory on the effects of source in negative campaigning for the highest office of the land, and tests whether it conforms to political behavior exhibited during the 2016 presidential campaign at both the state and county level. Results show the source of an attack matters, even in presidential contests, a finding particularly relevant given the hundreds of millions of dollars of attack ads from outside sources which saturate the televised airwaves of presidential campaigns today and well into the foreseeable future.
Article
The Liberal–National Coalition success in the 2019 Australian federal election surprised many observers, with the opinion polls consistently predicting a Labor victory. The election was notable for Labor’s proposals for wide-ranging tax changes, a historically unpopular Labor leader, and the fourth change of prime minister outside an election since 2010. Using the 2019 Australian Election Study, we test the influence of two models of voting, the first based on ideology together with an emphasis on policy, and the second on performance. The results show that performance was the dominant explanation for the result, with evaluations of party competence and leader popularity playing a major role in explaining voting behaviour in the election, both of which benefitted the Coalition.
Article
Social media is used by all aspects of society from citizens to businesses, but it also now used by political parties. Political parties use social media to engage with voters as a method of attract new voters or reinforcing the views of political parties’ current supporters. An important consideration is the ethical conduct of political parties and politicians in how they use social media. It is now recognized that social media can also have negative aspects seen by the introduction of Fake News. These negative aspects of social media are often overlooked and have not been explored from a research perspective. This paper looks at the Australian 2019 General Election and discusses a major Fake News example that occurred during that election. The paper will also describe the different types of social media data was collected during the study and also present the analysis of the data collected as well discussing the research findings including the ethical issues.
Article
Do men and women respond differently to negative political communication? Only a limited collection of studies into the effects of negative campaigns have investigated this research question, and the conflicting results produced from such studies have prevented the development of a widely accepted answer. As campaigns transition to new media environments, further problems arise, as any potential gender gap may be magnified on the new political communication battlefield of social media. The present article contributes to this sparsely investigated area through an empirical study of men's and women's reactions on Facebook to US presidential candidate attacks during two general election campaigns (2012 and 2016) and two primaries (2016 Democratic and Republican). Across nearly 400 million reactions and 40 million unique users, women demonstrate lower receptivity to candidate attacks than men. Two potential explanatory factors for the gap are examined, but neither fully captures the magnitude of the differences observed. Conceptualizing the gender gap composition in terms of differential receptivity most accurately explains these findings and potentially resolves the competing explanations for the gap within the existing literature.
Article
This article is based on a keynote delivered at the Future of Journalism conference at Cardiff University in September 2017. The speech was inspired by personal experiences and frustrations as a practitioner-academic leading a project designed to develop and test solutions to the challenges posed by information disorder. Arguing for closer relationships between journalism academics, news organizations and technology companies, this article outlines terminology and frameworks for making sense of information disorder, so those conversations can be based on shared definitions.
Article
Fabricated news is expressly disseminated for the sake of earning money from clicks and views, and it is also used to mislead and derail. With lightening speed, fake news goes viral without being vetted or confirmed. If such information is ever retracted or disproved, the damage has been done and the evidence remains digitally archived. This scenario played out repeatedly, and in epic proportions, in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Now, postelection, increasing attention is being paid to fake news. But fake news is not new, nor are its relatives: hoaxes, satire, algorithmic biases, and propaganda. It just has an alarming new patina. This essay will address the renewed phenomenon of fake news and its related concepts and will discuss how knowledge of information behavior and critical information evaluation skills can aid in combating the effects of fake news and promote more savvy information consumption.
Article
Researchers have used surveys and experiments to better understand communication dynamics, but confront consistent distortion from self-report data. But now both digital exposure and resulting expressive behaviors (such as tweets) are potentially accessible for direct analysis with important ramifications for the formulation of communication theory. We utilize “big data” to explore attention and framing in the traditional and social media for 29 political issues during 2012. We find agenda setting for these issues is not a one-way pattern from traditional media to a mass audience, but rather a complex and dynamic interaction. Although the attentional dynamics of traditional and social media are correlated, evidence suggests that the rhythms of attention in each respond to a significant degree to different drummers.
Article
Context: Misperceptions are a major problem in debates about health care reform and other controversial health issues. Methods: We conducted an experiment to determine if more aggressive media fact-checking could correct the false belief that the Affordable Care Act would create "death panels." Participants from an opt-in Internet panel were randomly assigned to either a control group in which they read an article on Sarah Palin's claims about "death panels" or an intervention group in which the article also contained corrective information refuting Palin. Findings: The correction reduced belief in death panels and strong opposition to the reform bill among those who view Palin unfavorably and those who view her favorably but have low political knowledge. However, it backfired among politically knowledgeable Palin supporters, who were more likely to believe in death panels and to strongly oppose reform if they received the correction. Conclusions: These results underscore the difficulty of reducing misperceptions about health care reform among individuals with the motivation and sophistication to reject corrective information.
Article
The past two decades have seen an explosion of social science research on negative political advertising as the number of political observers complaining about its use if not negative campaigning itself has also grown dramatically. This article reviews the literature on negative campaigning what candidates are most likely to attack their opponent, under what circumstances, and most importantly, to what effect. We also discuss the many serious methodological issues that make studying media effects of any kind so difficult, and make suggestions for “best practices in conducting media research. Contrary to popular belief, there is little scientific evidence that attacking one's opponent is a particularly effective campaign technique, or that it has deleterious effects on our system of government. We conclude with a discussion of whether negative political advertising is bad for democracy.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983
  • Australian Government
Angry retirees boo Labor’s ‘death tax’ at fiery hearing
  • Benns
Retirees’ paradise in revolt as ALP eyes super savings
  • Caisley
Review of Labor’s 2019 federal election campaign
  • Emerson
‘Political Elites’ Use of Fake News Discourse Across Communications Platforms
  • Farhall
Death taxes – you don’t say, Bill!
  • Frydenberg
Inheritance tax in union’s list of demands for Bill
  • Holderhead
How a ‘zombie rumour’ about taxes spread in Australia
  • Kruger
‘Abhorrent’: PM rips into One Nation
  • Clench
Greens snub Burnside over death tax push
  • Harris
Burnside backs death tax in battle for Kooyong
  • Minear
‘It felt like a big tide’: how the death tax lie infected Australia’s election campaign
  • Murphy
PM announces first-home scheme at Liberal party campaign launch – as it happened
  • Remeikis