CDCS Workshop: Johan Farkas, Malmö University

Disguised Propaganda on Social Media: Post-Truth, Fake News, and Democracy
Johan Farkas
22 Oct 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Annenberg School for Communication, Room 300
Open to the Public

Share Facebook Twitter

About the Talk

Democracies are currently under siege, as fake news are flooding social media and post-truth sentiments roam throughout society. This dystopian narrative has come to dominate political agendas across the globe. To save democracy — a number of voices argue — radical measures are needed. In this talk, Johan Farkas critically examines post-truth discourses, honing in on both the contemporary threats posed by disguised propaganda on social media and the risks of advancing undemocratic solutions to solve them.

The first part of the talk dives into the rise and proliferation of disguised propaganda on social media, drawing on empirical cases such as the Internet Research Agency in Russia and fake Muslim Facebook pages in Denmark. While disguised propaganda is not a new phenomenon in itself, the technological architecture of digital platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, enables new forms of manipulation, tactically exploiting interfaces, algorithmic proliferation, and content moderation policies. This poses novel challenges for democracy.

Disguised propaganda in digital media have caused scholars, journalists, and politicians to talk about a post-truth crisis in dire need of fixing. Indeed, for many, truth must be restored at all costs, as democracy is founded on evidence-based decision-making. The second part of the talk critically engages with these post-truth discourses and the solutions they contain. Engaging with critical political philosophy, Farkas highlights how these "democratic imaginaries" neglect how democracy has never been about truth, evidence and rationality alone. It is equally about the voice of the democratic people. By neglecting this cornerstone of the democratic tradition, post-truth discourses reproduce and strengthen a risky vision of democracy — one in which consensus and rationality dominate over civic voices and popular dispute. By doing so, contemporary post-truth discourses — and the solutions they contain — might end up deepening existing democratic problems.

The talk is based on Farkas’ new book, Post-Truth, Fake News and Democracy: Mapping the Politics of Falsehood, written with Jannick Schou and published by Routledge.

About the Speaker

Johan Farkas is a Ph.D. Fellow in Media and Communication Studies at Malmö University in Sweden. His research engages with the intersection of digital media platforms, disinformation, politics, journalism, and democracy. Farkas has published on these topics in international journals such as New Media & Society, Social Media + Society, and Critical Discourse Studies. In September 2019, his debut book, Post-Truth, Fake News and Democracy: Mapping the Politics of Falsehood (with Jannick Schou) was published by Routledge. The book presents a detailed analysis of contemporary discourses of fake news and post-truth, offering both a trenchant critique and call for more inclusive forms of democracy. Farkas is currently Chair of the Young Scholars Network of the European Communication Research and Education Association (YECREA). You can learn more about his work on his website and follow him on Twitter @farkasjohan

Lunch begins at 11:45am. Space is limited. Please RSVP to

To stay up to date on news and events at the Center on Digital Culture and Society, visit our website and follow us on Twitter @CDCSPenn.

This event may be photographed and/or video recorded for archival, educational, and related promotional purposes. We also video stream many of these video recordings through the Annenberg web site. By attending or participating in this event, you are giving your consent to be photographed and/or video recorded and you are waiving any and all claims regarding the use of your image by the Annenberg School for Communication. The Annenberg School for Communication, at its discretion, may provide a copy of the photos/footage upon written request.