To Believe or Not to Believe: an Epistemic Exploration of Fake News, Truth, and the Limits of Knowing

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In the 2016 US presidential election campaign, an online news story broke reporting that ‘tens of thousands’ of pre-marked ballots had been found in a warehouse in Ohio. The ballots were reportedly marked in favor of Hillary Clinton and were to be counted alongside real election ballot boxes. The story contained a picture of the ballot boxes along with the individual who supposedly discovered the ballots. The story was false; however, before its falseness was exposed, it went viral and was viewed by the media as having affected the outcome of the election in favour of Donald Trump. While the deceit of the creator of this fake news should be of great concern, the perilousness of fake news to the corrosion of democracy is substantial. In this paper, I explore what it means to be an online news consumer in relation to the magnitude of the problem of fake news. I examine what it means for online news consumers to acquire knowledge and the pitfalls they experience in a fake news online environment. I add another layer of analysis through the exploration of how online news consumers determine truth and discuss the boundaries of determining the truth in fake news online environments. I conclude that in a fake news online environment, acquiring knowledge for democratic participation is dubious. Determining the truth of fake news stories can be uncertain, and when combined with limited opportunities to gain knowledge, online news consumers are in a conundrum of what to believe. I conclude with the suggestion that one-way education ought to assist online news consumers in understanding the limits of their epistemological stances in relation to fake news in online environments as an outset to assist citizens to become better online news consumers, so they have the option to enact democracy through increased epistemic volition.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPostdigital Science and Education
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2019

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