Fake News and Epistemic Vice: Combating a Uniquely Noxious Market

Journal of the American Philosophical Association (3):1-22 (2022)
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The topic of fake news has received increased attention from philosophers since the term became a favorite of politicians (Habgood-Coote 2016; Dentith 2016). Notably missing from the conversation, however, is a discussion of fake news and conspiracy theory media as a market. This paper will take as its starting point the account of noxious markets put forward by Debra Satz (2010), and will argue that there is a pro tanto moral reason to restrict the market for fake news. Specifically, we begin with Satz’s argument that restricting a market may be required when i) that market inhibits citizens from being able to stand in an equal relationship with one another, and ii) this problem cannot be solved without such direct restrictions. Our own argument then proceeds in three parts: first, we argue that the market for fake news fits Satz’s description of a noxious market; second, we argue against explanations of the proliferation of fake news that are couched in terms of “epistemic vice”, and likewise argue against prescribing critical thinking education as a solution to the problem; finally, we conclude that, in the absence of other solutions to mitigate the noxious effects of the fake news market, we have a pro tanto moral reason to impose restrictions on this market. At the end of the paper, we consider one proposal to regulate the fake news market, which involves making social media outlets potentially liable in civil court for damages caused by the fake news hosted on their websites.

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Author Profiles

Megan Fritts
University of Arkansas, Little Rock
Frank Cabrera
University of Wisconsin, Madison (PhD)