Fake news, relevant alternatives, and the degradation of our epistemic environment

Academic Article

Abstract

  • This paper contributes to the growing literature in social epistemology of diagnosing the epistemically problematic features of fake news. I identify two novel problems: the problem of relevant alternatives; and the problem of the degradation of the epistemic environment. The former arises among individual epistemic transactions. By making salient, and thereby relevant, alternatives to knowledge claims, fake news stories threaten knowledge. The problem of the degradation of the epistemic environment arises at the level of entire epistemic communities. I introduce the notion of an epistemic environment, roughly the totality of resources and circumstances relevant to assessing the epistemically interesting statuses, such as knowledge. Fake news degrades our epistemic environment by undermining confidence in epistemic institutions and altering epistemic habits, thereby making the environment less conducive to achieving positive epistemic statuses. This is problematic even if the decrease in confidence and the altering of habits are rational. I end by considering solutions to these problems, stressing the importance of reproaching each other for proliferating fake news. I argue that we should reproach even faultless purveyors of fake news. This is because fake news typically arises in abnormal epistemic contexts, where there is widespread ignorance of, and noncompliance with, correct epistemic norms.
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    Author List

  • Blake-Turner C