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Corrupted infrastructures of meaning: post-truth identities online

This article outlines a framework for analyzing post-truth identities. Our overarching argument is that post-truth identities emerge from a confluence of individual-level and contextual factors. Cognitive biases that shape how individuals encounter and process information have recently been granted freer rein as a result of changes in the technological basis of media systems in the advanced democracies. But in addition to these macro-structural changes, we suggest that attention should also focus on how post-truth identities come to be formed and maintained at the micro level, in everyday life. Drawing upon the social identity theory tradition in social psychology, we assume that identity is inextricably tied to group formation and the maintenance of group belonging. Post-truth identities rely upon corrupted, self-initiated infrastructures of meaning that are animated by emotional narratives and repositories of cherry-picked, misrepresented justifying ‘evidence.’ These infrastructures are, in part, enabled by the unique affordances of social media for decentralizing, but also algorithmically organizing, the production and circulation of socially consequential information. Identity affirmation is reinforced by the major online platforms’ commercially driven, personalized recommendation features, such as Google search’s autosuggest, YouTube’s autoplay, and Facebook’s news feed. The affordances these create contribute to shared experiences among believers but can also make it more likely that larger audiences are exposed to falsehoods as part of everyday searching, reading, viewing, and sharing. And yet, much of the infrastructure exists on the broader internet, away from social media platforms, in dedicated folksonomic settings such as forums, wikis, email lists, podcasts, and alternative news sites. These settings also provide ready-made materials that mainstream media organizations use in their reporting, which further contributes to the spread of false and distorted beliefs and the formation of identity among both existing supporters and new recruits. We illustrate these conceptual themes with three examples: ‘anti-vaxxers,’ ‘flat earthers,’ and ‘incels.’



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Communication and Media

Published in

The Routledge Companion to Media Disinformation and Populism






AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Rights holder

© 2021 selection and editorial matter, Howard Tumber and Silvio Waisbord; individual chapters, the contributors

Publisher statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Routledge Companion to Media Disinformation and Populism on 24 Mar 21, available online:

Publication date


Copyright date



9780367435769; 9781003004431

Book series

Routledge Media and Cultural Studies Companions




Howard Tumber; Silvio Waisbord


Prof Andrew Chadwick. Deposit date: 11 May 2020

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