This paper aims to analyze some of the epistemically pernicious effects of the use of the internet and social media. In light of this analysis, it introduces the concept of epistemic pornography and argues that epistemic agents both can and should avoid consuming and sharing epistemic pornography.
The paper draws on research on epistemic virtue, cognitive biases, social media use and its epistemic consequences, fake news, paternalistic nudging, pornography, moral philosophy, moral elevation and moral exemplar theory to analyze the epistemically pernicious effects of the internet and social media.
There is a growing consensus that the internet and social media activate and enable human cognitive biases leading to what are here called “failures of epistemic virtue.” Common formulations of this problem involve the concept of “fake news,” and strategies for responding to the problem often have much in common with paternalistic “nudging.” While fake news is a problem and the nudging approach holds out promise, the paper concludes that both place insufficient emphasis on the agency and responsibility of users on the internet and social media, and that nudging represents a necessary but not sufficient response.
The essay offers the concept of epistemic pornography as a concept distinct from but related to “fake news” – distinct precisely because it places greater emphasis on personal agency and responsibility, and following recent literature on moral elevation and moral exemplars, as a heuristic that agents might use to economize their efforts at resisting irrational cognitive biases and attempting to live up to their epistemic duties.
Special thanks for conversation, comments and criticism are due to Stephanie Adair, Patrick Anderson, Jeffrey Byrnes and Michael DeWilde. In addition, the essay was considerably improved by comments from two anonymous reviewers for the journal. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Institute for Philosophical Studies in Green Bay, WI, the GVSU Student Philosophy Club, the GVSU Philosophy Summer Research Group, and at the 9th International Conference on Information Law and Ethics: Psychological and socio-political dynamics within the Web held in Rome, Italy in July of 2019. I am grateful for helpful comments, suggestions, and criticisms from participants at all of these meetings.
Spear, A.D. (2019), "Breaking the epistemic pornography habit: Cognitive biases, digital discourse environments, and moral exemplars", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 83-104. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-10-2019-0117Download as .RIS
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