How to fight misinformation in the post-truth era

Wie man Fehlinformationen in der Ära nach der Wahrheit bekämpft

The information processing advantages of the newspaper press. In the first scenario on the left, the agent exercises epistemic vigilance toward a variety of different witness sources that provide communicated information. With the advent of institutions of epistemic vigilance, the institution exercises epistemic vigilance over potential sources of testimony and the content they communicate. The institution then collects, curates, and presents a selection of information in a universal format that the agent understands. This means (ideally) that the agent only needs to stay alert to the institution rather than a multitude of potential sources. Recognition: social epistemology (2022). DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2022.2109532

An article published in the Journal of Social Epistemology entitled Institutions of Epistemic Vigilance: The Case of the Newspaper Press, authored by Central European University researchers Akos Szegofi and Christophe Heintz, describes how we can and should combat misinformation: through collective action. The battle can only be won by updating existing institutions of epistemic vigilance, the researchers argue, but not necessarily by updating the human mind.


Szegofi and Heintz show that the current era we sometimes refer to as “post-truth” is not without precedent: whenever communication environments change, speakers who want to deceive others and listeners who want to avoid end up being deceived become, again into each other. race-like mechanism. The last phase of this is what we now call post-truth.

But how can listeners assert themselves in this arms race? How can they avoid being misled when there are so many new communication platforms and methods to fool?

The authors claim that humankind has evolved a specific method: instead of evolving their brains to cope with the demands of the new communication environment, they evolve institutions to do the heavy lifting. These “institutions of epistemic vigilance” are organized analogously to how some brain abilities function.

Instead of cells and neural pathways, tasks are distributed between human individuals and non-human tools like search engines and open-source investigative databases. So if the task of curating information can become too much for a single person in our busy digital age, institutions still make it possible for them to do so.

Credit: Central European University

“While humans have the psychological abilities to exercise epistemic vigilance themselves, there are contexts where we benefit from entrusting institutions with these tasks – for example, with difficult but highly relevant medical information or in filtering out relevant/irrelevant information,” says Christophe Heinz.

However, institutions are fragile constructions that face several new challenges. A possible problem pointed out by the authors is the fact that good epistemic practices are costly and the expectation of free information from the Internet forces epistemic institutions to look elsewhere for means, which could harm their impartiality and factuality.

Another difficulty is presented by social media platforms, where readers meet fake and truth in the same epistemic space. The simultaneous presentation “puts reliable information in an unequal competition: truth is impervious to our preferences, while fakes are manipulated to suit them. Therefore, the psychological mechanisms of epistemic alertness – which tend to modulate trust in light of the news source – reduce their efficiency,” says Akos Szegofi.

The article also touches on the question of the future use of AI and the fear that it could be used to generate disinformation in the future. “The institutions of epistemic vigilance are indeed being challenged by digitization. Perhaps the solution also lies in digitization, in programming AI to curate reliable information based on the principles of epistemic vigilance,” the authors claim.

In summary, history tells us that institutions that provide reliable information are vulnerable and there is no easy strategy to fix them. Szegofi and Heintz believe that while it is not certain that we will have institutions of epistemic vigilance in the future, they are worth saving as they enable us to trust.

More information:
Ákos Szegőfi et al, Institutions of Epistemic Vigilance: The Case of the Newspaper Press, social epistemology (2022). DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2022.2109532

Provided by Central European University

Citation: How to fight misinformation in the post-truth era (2022, November 17), retrieved November 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-misinformation-post-truth-era.html

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