Mankind’s history has always been influenced by knowledge. The amount of information available for a human to comprehend defines the choices that are to be made. We are now in an era where information surplus plays a vital role in society. Current algorithms that make use of big data underpin the scarcity of knowledge and thus modern civilization. It is an ongoing battle between the creator of output and how this is personally taken in. The vastly increasing data streams produce more and more caches of information. This information extends and amplifies human urges and conditions. We could phrase this as visual rhetoric. The term rhetoric was coined by Aristotle, but later defined in terms of visual rhetoric by Roland Barthes (Barthes, 1977). Visual rhetoric is the art of discourse, in which an image (or language) is designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, mainly for promotional purposes through making connections with symbolic references. Here, a symbolic reference means a reference that is immediately associated with specific information that is known to the recipient. It is in this sense that rhetoric empowers information, which nowadays is designed to be addictive.
The consumer feels the urge to (im-)prove his or hers intelligence, as a part of a social online identity, by sharing content that he or she feels connected with. Now, when the average consumer takes into consideration that every article he or she reads can contain information that may be false or even fake, the design of a website should be adjusted in order to give the idea of a safe space and in so suggest that the information is trustworthy and reliable. This safe space acts as beacon for the contents of the site, in which a person can be perceived as able to move freely without encountering judgement. In so this projects the image that this is a place in which personal experiences and/or emotions might safely be released, as it is an environment in which feeling and even expressing those emotions is accepted. In this “safe” space fake news can play on the emotions of the reader. It might act counter intuitively, by trying to sell the reader information that goes against what he or she usually believes in. The journalistic integrity is based on implicit audience trust, which nowadays is damaged, due to the distribution of more and more authoritative untrustworthy and even false articles. This has a major effect on the accountability of journalists who, until recent times, where never challenged to show how they proceeded regarding the rhetoric process used in transmitting their work.
This rhetoric process consists of a set of interdependent social practices. In journalism it is the way how information is gathered, processed and distributed. Journalists take several basic things into account whilst creating the content, of which the most important is how the information is to be designed in terms of its literacies (Hoggart, 1957). In modern terms literacies can be defined as both a set of dominant symbol systems such as language and images, as well as the technology used to convey the message. In other words, it contains multiple basic stimuli through which we understand and communicate useful knowledge. It is in this sense that literacies provides essential links between understanding and how to reflect upon it. Meanings in multimedia are not fixed, but share authoritative acknowledgement by use of semiotic resources.
“Semiotic resources” is defined as an umbrella term for actions, materials, artefacts etc. that we use to communicate (e.g. books, newspapers, e-readers, e.a.) All of these semiotic resources have their own regimes, which influence the meaning of the content communicated. It can be debated that an algorithm is a semiotic resource as well, because it functions as a tool that helps to communicate and/or propagate information. Semiotic regimes generate a socially or culturally taken-for-granted-ness, to the extent that the user automatically understands how to interpret information from different semiotic resources. It is this shared meaning that is used to generate authoritative power in multimedia communication, by relying on dominant rhetoric symbols that invoke specific reactions in the user. For example, a newspaper utilized on screen mostly evokes a different reactions in readers as the same one read in print, since the online version enables different social actions. Or as J.L Lemke describes this effect: “What looks like the same text or multimedia genre on paper or on screen is not functionally the same, follows different meaning conventions, and requires different skills for its successful use, when it functions in different social networks for different purposes, as a part of different human activities” (Lemke, 2004, p.73).
The above shows how both visual rhetoric and literacies determine how we perceive and communicate information, and maybe even encompass overlapping meaning. Following Lemke (2004) and Barthes (1977) these forms of discourse will have different impacts, depending on the medium that is used. However, media also show similarities, which are often the result of repurposing. In the next three posts I will first discuss the relation between repurposing and interpretation. Subsequently, I will emphasize the impact of some online aspects of visual rhetoric and literacies, that are absent in analogue media. I discuss three different aspects, being: algorithms to order information; the act of sharing; design of interfaces.