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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Trump and Circumstance: Introducing the Post-Truth Claim as an Instrument for Investigating Truth Contestation in Public Discourse

Social Media
Alena Kluknavska
Masaryk University
Alena Kluknavska
Masaryk University
Olga Eisele
University of Vienna
Jan Hanzelka
Masaryk University
Miroslav Nemčok
University of Helsinki

The idea of post-factual politics has become increasingly relevant for describing current political and societal developments. Post-factual politics is characterized by the lack of regard for the truth and verifiable claims as well as a dominance of emotions instead of evidence and creation of ‘alternative’ facts in the public debate. Mainstream news media as traditional gatekeepers for public attention are under fire for ‘spreading lies’, while social media are suspected to tailor news to individual interests in filter bubbles acting as an echo chamber of our own beliefs. Diverse actors strategically spread false assumptions and disinformation through the mainstream and ‘alternative’ media and contribute actively to a polarization of society at large. One of the most prominent figures of this discourse is the president of the United States Donald Trump who has frequently accused opponents of spreading lies and, in turn, has frequently faced criticism regarding his truthfulness and the correctness of ‘alternative facts’ promoted by himself or on his behalf.
Given the crucial societal relevance, a high volume of research has evolved around the trope of post-factual politics, centred on questions of how and why misleading content is produced, disseminated, or accepted as legitimate and what are the effects of such communication. However, there seems to be a lack of methodological tools and standards regarding the question of how to best tackle post-truth discourses, also for reaching higher comparability across studies. In light of this, the paper advances the adaptation of claims-making for the analysis of post-truth discourses. We start from the original claims-making approach proposed by Koopmans and Statham (1999) and build in the distinct features of post-truth discourse identified from the literature. Claims are perceived as strategic interventions by political actors, allowing them to position themselves and advance their own interests by promoting a certain frame of an issue. A post-truth claim, then, is perceived as an explicit judgement regarding the correctness or falseness of something or someone; an explicitly formulated disregard of factual or scientific information, in some cases accompanied by the presentation of ‘alternative’ facts and experts; the active appeal to emotions expressed in explicit evaluations, which follow an underlying dynamic of discrediting others or their opinions, while the own opinion or those of allies is held in high regards.
We illustrate the employability of our approach with a pilot study, coding post-truth claims from the Twitter account of the President of the United States during the longest period of shutdown in US history, i.e. from 22 December 2018 to 25 January 2019. We discuss in detail the conceptual development and empirical validation of the post-truth claim, presenting the results of our analysis of tweets. Finally, we discuss different possibilities of using claims data as a basis for a range of other analyses like social network analysis or dictionary development for automated content analysis. In conclusion, the post-truth claim emerges as a useful instrument for measuring the contestation of truth in contemporary politics.
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