Recent years have witnessed the conditions for democratic life in a number of supposedly mature polities being polluted by division and hate. Online disinformation has played a prominent role, and internet giants are rightly being accused of facilitating such campaigns through their negligence in the design and management of their platforms. But while this global debate is important, it has been too focused on the particular phenomenon of deceptive online content, at the expense of a more systematic and evidence-based response to the much larger problem of hate propaganda.
This lecture explains why a medium/message-centric approach underestimates the complexity of the problem and is bound to fail. It argues instead for an actor/movement perspective that recognises hate merchants as highly versatile and resilient masters of political spin. Drawing on case studies from India, Indonesia, the United States and other democracies, it suggests that our supply-side interventions will not be able to cope with disinformation-assisted hate spin unless we can also reduce people’s demand for tribal, identity-based politics.
Cherian George is Professor of Media Studies at the Journalism Department of Hong Kong Baptist University, where he also serves as director of the Centre for Media and Communication Research. He researches media freedom, censorship and hate propaganda. He is the author of five books, including Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy (MIT Press, 2016). He received his Ph.D. in Communication from Stanford University. Before joining academia, he was a journalist with The Straits Times in Singapore. @cheriangeorge