ISSN 1016-1007 GPN2005600032
頁數:161﹣208 病毒、資訊與社會:以Luhmann的社會系統理論觀察訊息疫情 Virus, Information, and Society:Observation of Infodemic Using Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory
Wei-San Sun
infodemic, Luhmann, misinformation, social systems theory
新冠病毒製造了兩種疫情,一是健康的,一是訊息的。WHO定義「訊息疫情」為:「伴隨流行病一起蔓延的大量正確與不正確的訊息。……影響大眾對科學以及公共防疫措施的信任……訊息疫情加深既存的社會差異、歧視……,阻礙社會團結」。在大流行病帶來的社會不安中,混亂的訊息有如病毒一般失控蔓延。面對訊息疫情的傳播亂象,傳播學界至今的討論多在現象層面,尚無概念性的理論解釋。如果病毒對人體健康威脅是一個客觀事實,為什麼不同社會群體面對病毒的態度如此迥異?如果訊息可以辨識真假,為什麼假訊息不斷地被再製、傳遞,而且還獲得支持?我們應該如何看待病毒、資訊與社會間的關係?本文使用Niklas Luhmann(尼可拉斯・魯曼)的社會系統理論,分析新冠疫情中資訊與社會間的多元關係,企圖回答上述問題。Luhmann認為社會系統是在自我認定的「差異」上,將自己從環境中劃分出來,系統操作「系統/環境」差異辨識資訊,建構自己賴以存在的溝通活動。從此理論角度,訊息疫情現象反映出現代社會是一個差異的組合,裡面包含種種差異的觀察、溝通與再製,而假訊息則是系統矛盾或衝突關係下的觀察產物。
Research background: The new coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought about two epidemics: one physical and the other informational. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines infodemic as “a tsunami of information—some accurate, some not—that spreads alongside an epidemic....... an infodemic can have direct negative impacts on the health of populations and the public health response...... infodemics hinder the cohesiveness of societies by increasing existing social inequities, stigma, gender disparity and generational rift.” Amidst the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, COVID-related misinformation has run wild just as much as the virus. This chaotic communication phenomenon has not been charted theoretically in communication studies thus far as most studies are limited to a phenomenal level. This study identifies three major approaches to tackle this problem in the academic arena. First, the health communication approach, typified by WHO’s endeavors, is to rectify misinformation by providing scientific evidence, hoping that science and reason prevail over misinformation as the dominant theme of social communication. Second, big data analyses have adopted a technical approach to trace the footprints of misinformation and reveal patterns of how misinformation spreads on social platforms and the scope of its seriousness. Third, geopolitical studies, political think tanks, and international human rights advocates seek to unveil the whos and whys behind misinformation by documenting certain social or political groups’ and regimes’ misinformation operations. Although fruitful, research efforts thus far have not provided a conceptual framework to make sense of the infodemic phenomenon as well as its deep-rooted societal problems at an abstract level.

Research purpose: Using social systems theory as a conceptual framework to analyze the infodemic phenomenon.

Research questions: This study situates the infodemic scenario within a broader matrix of diverse relations between information and societies and aims to answer the following questions. If the virus’ threat toward human health is a fact, then why do different social groups react to the virus so contrarily? If information can be determined as true or false, then why is misinformation being continuously reproduced, spread, and even supported? What does one make of the relations among the virus, information, and society?

Research method: This study uses sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory as the conceptual tool, as well as the study’s worldview, to analyze the infodemic phenomenon. It first introduces Luhmann’s concept of observation, autopoiesis, communication, system differentiation, and system contradiction and conflict and then uses these concepts to observe the diverse relationships between information and societies within the pandemic. This research deems Luhmann’s systems theory an adequate conceptual model for the subject as it conceives society as a complex conglomerate of differences instead of an aggregation of consensus.

Research results: This study concludes with four propositions. (1) The semantic of infodemic does not reflect an objective phenomenon; instead, it is a construction out of frustrated observations projected by nation-states that find themselves unable to steer the themes of social communication both within and over their boundaries. According to Luhmann, there is only one society in the modern world, the world society, which presents itself as the horizon of all possible themes of communication. Infodemic reflects a frustration in which nation-states find that the disparity between reality and an ideal civic society is getting wider. (2) Luhmann conceives social systems as differences; systems differentiate themselves from the environment and use the distinctions self-referentially to recognize information with which to construct communication on which the systems exist. As a result, different systems apply different distinctions to construct information pertaining to their own autopoietic reproduction. This explains why different social groups would have very different responses to an otherwise physically harmful virus. (3) In Luhmann’s communication concept, information is not the message transmitted between sender and receiver, but a selection among participants who share the information as a resource for system reproduction. Thus, a message, be it true or false and as long as it is meaningful for an observation system’s reproduction, is deemed useful information. This explains why pieces of misinformation can be continually reproduced, shared, and supported. (4) Misinformation, and thus infodemic, emerges as various systems utilize different distinctions to construct diverse observations and communications. From the perspective of first-order observation, a system calls a message misinformation if the message violates its own meaning constitution. However, from the perspective of second-order observation (i.e., observing how a system observes), one can see that misinformation is a system’s communication labeling another system’s communication. It takes at least two systems involved in a contradictory or conflicting relation to realize misinformation being labelled. On the level of second-order observation, there can be no true or false information, only different information. Under the characteristics of the diversity of modern society, accusations of misinformation will become rampant as contradictory and conflicting system relations prevail.

Originality/value: Luhmann’s systems theory not only provides a conceptual framework for observing the infodemic phenomenon and its deep-rooted societal problems, but also enables us to see the other side that previous research methods do not - the side of unscientific and anti-democratic communications that nevertheless also make up parts of the social world.
2022/ 夏