Research and Political Implications of the Dis-/misinformation Concept

Keynote speech by Jayson Harsin, Professor and Director of the Center for Media, Communication, and Global Change, The American University of Paris.


Bilbliometric and news archival analysis shows that disinformation (and also but to somewhat lesser degree misinformation) are concepts that leapt into an international public and academic discourse between 2016 and 2019 and received, comparatively, almost no prior academic attention except in Cold War state propaganda research.

Yet they are now academic and popular "household" words. Considering the history of communication and media theory, new interest in dis/misinformation is a curious turn, since communication theory has long sought to complicate folk definitions of communication as the transmission of information (in "messages"). I will revisit this history and then argue that while the phenomena called dis/misinformation surely merits our attention, its conceptual characterization as a corrupted information is not without consequences, which encourage an older, more simplistic theory of communication.

Conceiving deception in informational terms, constructs a problem, and restricts its range of causes and solutions. Emphasis on fact-checking that reduces communication to true/false statements is right to imply that belief, disbelief and confusion are about mistaken trust (hence concerns about non-authoritative sources). However, these accounts often ignore that trust equally concerns form.

Deception is primarily about presentation and perception, not about simple factual statements (i.e. information); nor simply about official credentials. Thus approaches to deception must engage with interpretation, meaning, and multiple levels of context—from sentences or image montage, to social networks, political economy, and the historical horizon itself. Several cases will be discussed to illustrate the argument.


Jayson Harsin is Professor, department of Communication, Media and Culture and director of the Center for Media, Communication, and Global Change, The American University of Paris. He has published widely on political deception with an emphasis on its cultural infrastructures and historical development; on political attention and distraction; as well as on political performance and the debates around post-truth politics and populism.

He is the former chair of the Philosophy, Theory & Critique research division of the International Communication Association.

Most recently, he is editor of the volume Rethinking Post-truth Politics and Trust: Globality, Culture, Affect (Routledge, 2024). He is currently finishing the book manuscript The Critique of Infocentrism and Disorderly Democracy: Implications of Dis-/misinformation Concepts

Funded by DFF-networking project “Ruling through Division: Categorizing People and Resources in Contemporary China” and The Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant “To Use or Not to Use? A Relational Approach to ICTs as Repertoire of Contention”.