Speaking to algorithms? Rhetorical political analysis as technological analysis

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In the last few years, research studies and opinion pieces have tried to account for the new polarisation and dealignment of US politics after Trump and the post-Brexit UK politics. It is now well-established both by academic research and by Facebook’s own research that Facebook leads to more polarisation in its users’ political views, but rhetorical analysis has not yet accounted for the role played by algorithms in political communication and persuasion. What does social media do to rhetoric? The situation of speech in social media is often treated like in a public sphere when it should not be. This misconception prevents rhetorical studies to take into consideration the question of technology. By using the recent literature in critical algorithm studies, I develop a new approach in rhetorical criticism. I argue here that the increasing agency that algorithms have acquired in delivering and mediating rhetoric means that we must consider the role played by intermediaries when examining rhetorical situations. This paper sheds light on what I call the four conditionalities of algorithms on rhetoric: (1) programmed speech content, (2) the verticalisation of political communication, (3) the new biases produced by digital media, and (4) the rhetorical machine learning.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date19 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Nov 2020

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