Fake News is Not a Virus: On Platforms and Their Effects

Anderson, C W
Communication Theory

This article attempts to uncover the intellectual, economic, and methodological structures that have led to the recent emergence of a particular notion of digital communication on social media platforms, one that emphasizes the power of (false) media messages to cause irrational political behavior and combines individual level understanding of media effects with a networked notion of society and information diffusion. After pointing out some of the real political-economic forces at work in setting the contours of this intellectual turn, I discuss how spaces between mutually constructed but overlapping paradigmatic understandings of media behavior lead to theories that serve as boundary objects, linking (and misunderstanding) older fields in order to advance new agendas. I then turn to the consequences of particular methodological choices, drawing on key works in Science and Technology Studies (STS) to make the point that these methodological choices not only establish scientific fields, they construct certain types of human subjects as well. The article concludes with a call for a more humanistic and interpretive approach to the understanding of political behavior and communication.