Ethos, Pathos and Logos: Rhetorical Fixes for an Old Problem: Fake News

Arthur J Grant
InSITE 2019  •  2019  •  pp. 081-091
Aim/Purpose: The proliferation of fake news through social media threatens to undercut the possibility of ascertaining facts and truth. This paper explores the use of ancient rhetorical tools to identify fake news generally and to see through the misinformation juggernaut of President Donald Trump.

Background: The ancient rhetorical appeals described in Aristotle’s Rhetoric—ethos (character of the speaker), pathos (nature of the audience) and logos (message itself)—might be a simple, yet profound fix for the era of fake news. Also known as the rhetorical triangle and used as an aid for effective public speaking by the ancient Greeks, the three appeals can also be utilized for analyzing the main components of discourse.

Methodology: Discourse analysis utilizes insights from rhetoric, linguistics, philosophy and anthropology in in order to interpret written and spoken texts.
Contribution This paper analyzes Donald Trump’s effective use of Twitter and campaign rallies to create and sustain fake news.

Findings: At the point of the writing of this paper, the Washington Post Trump Fact Checker has identified over 10,000 untruths uttered by the president in his first two years of office, for an average of eight untruths per day. In addition, analysis demonstrates that Trump leans heavily on ethos and pathos, almost to the exclusion of logos in his tweets and campaign rallies, making spectacular claims, which seem calculated to arouse emotions and move his base to action. Further, Trump relies heavily on epideictic rhetoric (praising and blaming), excluding forensic (legal) and deliberative rhetoric, which the ancients used for sustained arguments about the past or deliberations about the future of the state. In short, the analysis uncovers how and ostensibly why Trump creates and sustains fake news while claiming that other traditional news outlets, except for FOX news, are the actual purveyors of fake news.

Recommendations for Practitioners: Information systems and communication practitioners need to be aware of the ways in which the systems they create and monitor are vulnerable to targeted attacks of the purveyors of fake news.

Recommendation for Researchers: Further research on the identification and proliferation of fake news from a variety of disciplines is needed, in order to stem the flow of misinformation and untruths through social media.

Impact on Society: The impact of fake news is largely unknown and needs to be better understood, especially during election cycles. Some researchers believe that social media constitute a fifth estate in the United States, challenging the authority of the three branches of government and the traditional press.

Future Research: As noted above, further research on the identification and proliferation of fake news from a variety of disciplines is needed, in order to stem the flow of misinformation and untruths through social media.
fake news, facts, misinformation, disinformation, alternative facts
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