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Concerns about what some have called weaponized narrative can be seen in the rise of fake news, science/climate deniers, and other aspects of a post-factual era. Behind many of these efforts are a variety of organizations—some of which are generally known and others that are in various ways concealed. These hidden organizations include front groups, astroturfing, fake news organizations, various cloaked websites, and other collectives whose identity is at least partially concealed from key audiences—often enhancing (though possibly restricting) the ability to weaponize narrative. It may be possible to better understand this phenomenon by integrating it with recent work in organizational communication related to the management of visibilities and clandestine/hidden organizations. This presentation outlines the work on visibility management and hidden organizations, strategies of concealment for organizations and their members, as well as motivations for and appropriateness of that concealment—and then applies that work to phenomena such as fake news and climate science denial. This sort of effort has the potential to help us better understand the communicative construction of a key form of weaponized narrative and more effectively confront some of the dangers it poses.
Craig R. Scott is Professor and Chair in the Department of Communication at Rutgers University. His research and teaching are primarily focused on organizational communication, where he examines issues of anonymity and identity/identification in various organizational settings. His current interests center around “hidden organizations,” which are found when an organization and/or its members conceal key parts of their identity from various audiences. His 2013 book, Anonymous Agencies, Backstreet Businesses, and Covert Collectives: Rethinking Organizations in the 21st Century has won multiple awards. He is Co-Editor of the recently released International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication and edited an award-winning special issue of Management Communication Quarterly on Hidden Organizations (published in 2015).
This lecture is co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic Communication and the Center on the Future of War