Posting Truth, or Post Truth

Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020


Posting truth, or post truth

Communication and information in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

What’s the connection between today’s news, Pokémon Go, the Ikea app that allows you to see what the furniture you want to buy will look like in your home, the simulators that are used to train fighter pilots, your playlist on Spotify, and the ads that pop onto your webpages and smartphone screens or even into your Gmail mailboxes? And when it comes to the news, what’s the connection between what you see on TV or other platforms, and a group of teenagers in Macedonia, or the output of people who call their social content “performance art”?

The short answer, of course, is the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), because it’s technology that enables all of these things, through smartphones, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. The long answer, however, is far more complex, perplexing and challenging, because it’s fundamentally about communication, at different levels of perception, information, subtlety, conviction, and above all – truth.

It’s become a matter of reconfiguring the real, and it embraces the entire issue of what human communication has become, could become, and should become.

Personality prioritised

For instance: where journalists used to research and check their stories, and obtain them straight from the mouths of sources whose reliability would be carefully gone into, today, anyone, including a teenager half a world away can make up any story and post it on social media platforms in such way as to make it news, and more than that, make it news that they know you want to hear.

Where the written word once needed to carry demonstrable weight – even if it was never without the exploitation and malign intentions of propaganda – today, the explosion and importance of video and other visual material has made that danger even more insidious. Where considered responses were often conditioned by the slowness of communication channels, in the epoch of fibre and 5G, knee-jerk and reflex could become the order of the day. Where communication was often simply channelled from one to the many, now it is deceptively, one to one – and that in itself can be very convincing, when it comes to dubious facts. Where a picture could once be worth a thousand words, the world of deep fake can make anyone think twice, or not enough

When you become the message

What’s more, where communication was once for information that had general import, there are now targeted snippets based on your own individualised preferences, tendencies, affinities and interests. And more than that even, there are psychologists who are defining what these mean for you, and whose work goes into algorithms that will talk to you personally, likeably and convincingly, to make you aware of a product or service, , in a carefully constructed piece of integrated marketing communication, where brand, service, taste and even news are rolled into one – just for you.

Perception or persuasion

Much of this will be real and positive, as much for our pleasure, entertainment and information, as it will be for benefits in medicine, in social crises, or in emergencies of one kind or another. Much of it, however, will have darker motives and consequences. All of it begs many questions – about privacy, about power, about ethics, and even about human nature and our willingness to trust.  So where does entertainment stop and manipulation begin? Where does persuasion start, and information end?

These are the questions, among many others, that the University of Johannesburg (UJ), as one of the most innovative leaders of academic thought on our continent, is committed to asking. As part of its rigorous interrogation of the benefits, drawbacks, challenges and innovation in the era of 4IR, UJ is hosting its second Cloudebate on [date] at [time], on this very subject of communication, and everyone’s invited, because everyone’s voice is important.

That’s because in an age where the reality of personalised targeting and fake news raise issues of ethics, motivation, agendas and outcomes, there is also the other side of the coin – the defence, rather than the erosion of rights, the safety of the individual, rather than invasion of privacy, and a greater sense of community and shared destiny, rather than the poisoning of minds. And all of it is to do with, and comes to our attention through, communication in all its forms – journalism, public relations, gaming, marketing, as well as the fusion of all these things – and all of it enabled by the technology of 4IR.  Is communication there to confirm your beliefs, or to call into question the convictions of others? If it’s there to inform, is personal taste and belief part of the information, and vice versa?

Reimagining the future

So, join the debate. All you have to do is visit to register for free. Lend your voice to the discussion, whether as an individual who is already targeted via your smartphone, as a member of a community already subject to fake news, or as an inhabitant of Africa, a continent which could yet see untold progress arising from the ethical communication of ideas and possibilities. Be part of the discussion, about what we want to see communicated to us, and how we want to see it communicated to us in this future that is taking shape before our eyes – be it virtually, in augmented shape, in reality, or in a mix of all these things.

Communication is a quintessential quality of humanity. We depend on it, we enjoy it, we live from it, and in many instances, we live for it. UJ, in one of its unique contributions to innovative communication – the Cloudebate – is going to be looking at all its aspects. Communication is what makes the modern world what it is, and in interrogating its meaning for our shared future, UJ is demonstrating the commitment that makes the university what it is as an institution – a leader in reimagining the future.


Prof Maria Frahm-Arp (Facilitator)

Prof Maria Frahm-Arp (Facilitator) is an Associate Professor in the Sociology of Religion at the University of Johannesburg and the Executive Director of the Library and Information Centre.  Her area of academic specialisation is Pentecostal Charismatic Churches and to date she has been involved in four, 10 week long TV series on Christianity in South Africa.

The two most popular series have been on DSTV one looking at Cult Churches that aired last year and another looking at miracle pastors which aired earlier this year. Maria also does a weekly podcast on Soul Provider which is listened to by over 75 000 people worldwide.  In her role as Executive Director of the Library she has been instrumental in helping the Library embrace the online space and play a meaningful role in information sharing in the digital age.

Prof. Ylva Rodny-Gumede

Ylva Rodny-Gumede is the Senior Director: Division of Internationalisation and also Professor in the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg.

She is a Senior Associate Researcher with the Stanhope Centre for International Communications Policy Research at the London School of Economics. She holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University as well as an MA degree in Politics from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and an MA in Journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K. Ylva is a former journalist and has also worked in marketing and PR. In addition, she has consulted for several government, private and academic institutions in Europe and Southern Africa on issues concerning media and democracy, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, and the SADC Parliamentary Forum. Ylva holds a C 3 rating from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and is the current President of the South African Communications and Media Association (SACOMM).

Dr Karabo Sitto

Dr Karabo Sitto is a lecturer in the Department of Strategic Communication at the University of Johannesburg. Her research areas of interest include digital and online communication, identity, social representations as well as teaching and learning.

Prior to joining academia, she worked in digital advertising and public relations for leading award-winning South Africa agencies with a range of client brands and organisations. She remains actively involved within the digital communication industry community. She is the co-editor of Connect: Writing for Online Audiences as well co-author of a number of published articles.

Kerry Sheehan

Kerry Sheehan has more than 15 years’ experience in government, health, tech, B2C and B2B sectors including global brands such as Intercontinental and Microsoft. She has extensive experience leading communications and marketing functions in agency and in-house settings and has proven success in developing and implementing artificial intelligence strategies.

Kerry is a Chartered Public Relations Practitioner, Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Council member, a Fellow of the CIPR and a member of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).

Kerry is Chair of the globally-leading Artificial Intelligence in Public Relations panel – #AIinPR – looking at the implications and opportunities of AI on the PR, communications and marketing communications industry and in the industry’s role as strategic advisors driving business forward to help ensure successful and sustainable futures. She is a member of the International Data Science Foundation, a graduate of Dame Wendy Hall’s Fundamentals of Data, AI and Machine Learning and is a Board Member of We and AI, educating on the risks and rewards of AI.

Matthew van der Valk

Executive Creative Direct​or, Geometry South Africa

With both a degree in creative communication management and an honours degree in strategic brand communications (cum laude), Matthew van der Valk has been straddling the line between creative and strategic brand communications for the last 14 years. Having worked with over 140 different brands across a multitude of diverse industries, he has developed countless integrated through-the-line advertising campaigns and innovative marketing strategies (that include everything from traditional above-the-line to digital and social media). By taking a systemic approach to not only their marketing, but also to their business problems, he has helped brands to become truly integrated across various stakeholder contact points.

Through his passion for creating communications that really connect with individuals from all walks of life, he continually pushes the boundaries to find new ways to capture not only people’s attention, but their hearts too. This is evidenced not only by his award-winning work with local and international brands, but also by his involvement with numerous NGOs.