Bad Faith, Bad Politics, Bad Consequences: The Epistemic Harms of Online Deceit

Alison MacKenzie*, Ibrar Bhatt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In this chapter, we take our cue from Machiavelli to explore whether deceit by those who govern us is good for the polity. We argue that it is not: all forms of deception carry great risks that infect social and political relations. It is particularly harmful when these deceits are conducted in online platforms, given the speed at which lies, fake news, misinformation, disinformation, and other such epistemic vices spread. Bad faith and bad politics lead to bad consequences: polarisation, mis/distrust, and anger, which opportunistic politicians ruthlessly exploit in social and mass media. To help us argue why the suspension of ethical conduct in politics and online media can rarely be justified, and why deceit is corrosive of trust, we draw on a number of analyses: strategic disinformation campaigns; the consumption of mass and social media driven by dis/mistrust; Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism and Bok’s examination of lies; and the ‘polariser’s toolkit’. We suggest that an alternative to the tactics of the polariser is the humanist toolkit: humanising propaganda based on empathy, and, naturally enough, an education that critically and extensively engages in digital epistemologies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Epistemology of Deceit in a Postdigital Era: Dupery by Design
EditorsAlison MacKenzie, Ibrar Bhatt, Jennifer Rose
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-72153-4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Publication series

NamePostdigital Science and Education Book Series
ISSN (Print)2662-5326


  • deceit
  • lies
  • fake news
  • misinformation
  • disinformation
  • epistemic vices
  • polariser toolkit


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