Contesting "Truthiness" and "Stickiness": Narratological Approaches to the Aesthetics of Fact Checking, Counter-Narratives and Political Activism in Germany
Stefan Groth (University of Zurich)
Paper short abstract:
The paper looks at German online campaigns to counter "fake news" to ask which aesthetic strategies are employed to prevent populist stories from becoming "sticky", how visual formats are countered or appropriated, and how fact checking efforts make use of media formats to contest "truthy" stories.
Paper long abstract:
"Truthiness" and "stickiness" have become unlikely key terms in debates on the validity of facts and knowledge, specifically with regard to the influence of populist content in digital media in Europe and beyond. The former term, established by a comedic infotainment format (The Colbert Report, 2005), describes "the conviction that something is true based on what feels true" (Wiese 2015); the latter refers to the quality of a story or token of information (such as memes) to gain traction and momentum, to enter circulation and to affect perceptions (Groth 2019). Both constitute new qualities of "truth claims" as they introduce distinct markers of plausibility and felicity, based not on facts or verification but on (aesthetic, affective, and contextual) appropriateness of contents and formats. The influence and relevance of "truthy" and "sticky" populist stories in social media and public discourse has increased significantly, illustrated by broad debates on "fake news" or "alternative facts" as well as efforts to "fact check" or "debunk" stories. This paper takes the prevalence of "truthiness" and "stickyness" in populist discourse in Germany as a starting point to investigate efforts to counter the influence of populist content and formats. Which aesthetic strategies are employed to prevent populist stories from becoming "sticky"? How are visual formats as alternative criteria of appropriateness countered or appropriated? How do fact checking and verification efforts make use of media formats to contest "truthy" stories? The paper looks at different online media campaigns to counter "fake news" in Germany to answer these questions.
Resisting Populism: Memes, Extreme Speech, and the Aesthetics of Affect and Defiance