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The philosophy of fake news

Rose, J. The Mortal Coil of Covid-19, Fake News, and Negative Epistemic Postdigital Inculcation. Postdigit Sci Educ2, 812–829 (2020).

Question: How could anyone believe that drinking bleach (or any dubious remedy, from just lacking evidence to the utterly preposterous) might 'cure' COVID?

Answer: Implicit knowledge. The repeated exposure to misinformation so prevalent in our digital society, creates mindsets that are not consciously open to questioning.

Here’s the logic:

  1. What we learn implicitly, we don’t question. Implicit knowledge is understanding gained from our surroundings. Some things we learn because we’re trying to learn, or because we’re being taught. And we recognize the thing as learned. Tacit knowledge we absorb from our environment. We don’t access this kind of learning consciously in our minds as something we lacked and then gained.

  2. Our surroundings are informational and digital. We are intimately and pervasively connected to the digital world. In fact, there is no separating digital from biological and social in the current era. Media and digital media act to define “what we know, and what we can know.”

  3. While the spread of misinformation or disinformation (the distinction being whether fact is used as is or altered for the communicator’s purposes) is not new, it is unprecedentedly rapid and easy in this postdigital age. Retweeting, reposting, repeating, and retelling can be done with a single keystroke or mouse click.

  4. The repeat exposure to misinformation constitutes an environment which can make learning implicit, that is, beyond conscious examination. “We implicitly learn and are shaped by repetitive exposure to the stimuli because we are sensitive to its frequency of exposure—in particular, in times of uncertainty (Hasher et al. 1977). When we are in uncertain circumstances or ambiguous situations, the more that we are exposed to particular stimuli, the more likely it becomes a reference for judgements of truth or falsity (Hasher et al. 1977). These become normalized and our truth.”

This not a discussion we can have on a rational level, at least not without digging a little deeper. “Rationality and irrationality are irrelevant constructs unless we have the knowledge … to utilize in ‘rational or irrational’ ways. We cannot think about ‘nothing’ rationally or irrationally. “

So, back to the article title. What we don’t know that we know (or learned) will be the basis for action, whether our learning is based on fact or fiction. “…negative epistemic (how we know what we know) postdigital inculcation (I will oversimplify as learning through repetition) creates tacit epistemological resources that are human nemesis… Negative epistemic postdigital inculcation occurs whether or not the information is true, false, or misleading.”

What to do? Rose proposes fighting fake news. Don’t share things that have no valid source. Recognize that we can do some fact-finding before acting. Question the motives behind what we see/hear/read. Be nice to our brains by taking care not to feed them “nutrient deficient information”. If repeated exposure to untruths is the problem, more exposure to facts is an obvious countermeasure.

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