Lies, Gaslighting & Propaganda

Buffalo Law Review 68 (4):1037-1116 (2020)
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It is commonplace to observe that digital technologies facilitate our access to information on a scale unimaginable in previous eras, leading many to call this the “Information Age.” The vaunted advantages of unprecedented data flow obscure a dark corollary: the more modes of engaging with data are available to a people, the more modes are available for manipulating them. Whether through social media, blogs, email, newspaper headlines, or doctored images and videos, the public is indeed bombarded by information, and much of it is misleading or outright false. Much of it, in fact, is propaganda. As the methods for manipulating mass audiences continue to multiply, a clear understanding of the concept of propaganda has never been more relevant. This Article constructs a precise, novel account of propaganda, incorporating notable scholarly insights into the concept as well as the overlooked lessons of the law’s fragmented efforts to regulate it. To bring this new theoretical framework into focus and demonstrate its importance in the Information Age, the Article connects the underlying theory to contemporary communications practices, many of which are enhanced by the availability of new technology. Notably, in doing so, the Article also develops the first systematic account of political gaslighting, which properly understood (and counterintuitively, perhaps) constitutes a form of propaganda.
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