Terry Flew is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Deputy Head of School for Research in the School of Art, Communication and English, as well as Professor of Digital Communication & Culture, at the The University of Sydney. Professor Flew has authored numerous books, including Regulating Platforms, Digital Platform Regulation, Handbook of the Digital Media Economy, and Understanding Global Media. He recently joined the editorial team of UC Press’s journal Global Perspectives as Section Editor of the Communication and Media section.
UC Press: Welcome to the Global Perspectives editorial team!
TF: Thank you. It is great to be a part of a new journal that approaches the challenges of our field from a global and interdisciplinary perspective.
UC Press: Of course this is not your first experience with Global Perspectives—you were a guest editor, along with Rosalie Gillett and Sora Park, of the special collection of articles, Trust and Digital Platforms. What was the impetus for that collection, and what are some of the insights readers might glean from it?
TF: The special issue on “Trust and Digital Platforms” arose from the need to bring together two perspectives. The first was that of digital platforms themselves, and the growing criticisms emerging about untrustworthy behavior. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was pivotal in this respect, but it sat alongside the increasing concerns about “fake news” and online misinformation.
Communications as a field has long had an important set of arguments related to trust, but has not focused enough on building a paradigm around communications and trust
The other driver was an awareness that communications as a field has long had an important set of arguments related to trust, but has not focused enough on building a paradigm around communications and trust. Trust studies has been a booming interdisciplinary field, but the dominant debates about trust come from sociology (in a tradition that goes back to Weber, Durekheim and Simmel), political science (under what conditions do citizens trust, or distrust, their governments?), philosophy, and the new institutional economics.
Communications has long engaged with the question of when, and under what conditions, we can trust speech and images, whether they be at the interpersonal level, within organizations and institutions, or through mass media and—more recently—digital platforms and social media. Concepts such as the public sphere, post-truth and mediated populism, to take three examples, all come from communication and media studies. But because of the overarching focus upon questions of ideology, or systematically distorted mistruth, we have been insufficiently focused upon the conditions of reception that shape whether messages are trusted or not. For example, the scholarship on misinformation needs to consider what is the demand for such content, and what are the social conditions that promote partisanship in the reception of media messages, and not simply treat it as a “supply-side” phenomenon of misleading content peddled by “bad actors,” that we can somehow wish away by better controlling information environments.
UC Press: Artificial intelligence (AI) has been in the news a lot recently (e.g., “A Conversation With Bing’s Chatbot Left Me Deeply Unsettled” and “A mental health tech company ran an AI experiment on real users. Nothing’s stopping apps from conducting more”). What are some of the implications for global communication in this new age of AI? Should we be excited, or scared?
TF: We should be alert to the new possibilities and threats that AI brings to the communications space. I note, for instance, that Kate Crawford has argued that artificial intelligence is neither artificial nor intelligent. We need to recognize the degree to which what appears to us as AI is in fact an aggregation of data and images that are already circulating in the public domain, and hence it is a socially shaped technology: it is not appearing as magic before us. Similarly we need to resist the “machines out of control” tropes that are so central to popular culture, from Frankenstein to The Terminator and Blade Runner, and think about how the pathways through which AI develops will be shaped by interests and institutions as well as ideas, and that scholarship in our field will be critical to this social shaping.
UC Press: As editor for the Communication and Media section, what are some of your plans for the journal? What manuscripts or special collections would you like to see published?
TF: As the above suggests, approaches to artificial intelligence from a critical, humanistic perspective will be one priority. Another will be transformations taking place in digital policy and governance. One feature of the current era is a turn towards nation-state governance of global digital platforms and a renewed focus upon sovereignty in tech policy discourse. Another has been a turn towards digital political economy as a revised framework for understanding the geopolitics of Internet governance in a multipolar world. We expect to be making announcements about such special collections in the near future.
UC Press: Thanks again for taking on this expanded role with Global Perspectives, and best wishes for your section!
TF: It is an honor and a pleasure.
The Communication and Media Section welcomes submissions of original research that are not under consideration for publication elsewhere. Please see our call for papers for more information.
Global Perspectives is an online-only, peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary journal seeking to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world, specifically in terms of concepts, theories, methodologies, and evidence bases. Work published in the journal is enriched by invited perspectives that enhance its global and interdisciplinary implications.
Editor-in-Chief: Helmut K. Anheier, Hertie School and Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA