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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 18, 2020

Defeating Fake News: On Journalism, Knowledge, and Democracy

Brian Ball

Abstract

The central thesis of this paper is that fake news and related phenomena serve as defeaters for knowledge transmission via journalistic channels. This explains how they pose a threat to democracy; and it points the way to determining how to address this threat. Democracy is both intrinsically and instrumentally good provided the electorate has knowledge (however partial and distributed) of the common good and the means of achieving it. Since journalism provides such knowledge, those who value democracy have a reason to protect it. Hostile agents, however, can undermine both the effectiveness of democratic decision-making and faith in democracy itself, by deliberately promulgating fake news and hyper-partisan views; moreover, these effects can come about unintentionally on social media. I conclude that we may need to change, not just the way we process information online, but also the informational environment in which we operate.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Elizabeth Edenberg, Don Fallis, Michael Hannon, David Lanius, Ioannis Votsis, two anonymous referees for this journal, and audiences at MANCEPT 2018 and the 2019 NCH/KIT workshop, Improving Public Debate and Political Decision-Making.

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Published Online: 2020-01-18
Published in Print: 2021-04-27

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