(Why) Is misinformation a problem?


In the last decade there has been a proliferation of research on misinformation. One important aspect that receives less attention is why exactly misinformation is a problem. To adequately address this question, we must determine its cause(s) and effect(s). This review therefore explores the way different disciplines (computer science, economics, history, information science, journalism, law, media, politics, philosophy, psychology, sociology) discuss the problem of misinformation. There is a consensus that advancements in technology have changed the way (mis)information is communicated. However, there is a divergence regarding the extent of the problem, as well as its observed effects. We offer an alternative explanation from the perspective of historical epistemology to claim that the cause for concern is a perceived increase in the use of intersubjective rather than objective mechanisms when establishing knowledge. However, even if intersubjectivity is gaining epistemological importance, one must demonstrate a causal link between misinformation and misbehaviors for it to be a significant threat, which has yet to be reliably empirically demonstrated. Misinterpreting a correlation as causation can lead to the position held by some disciplines that misinformation is the malaise of our times requiring urgent interventions, possibly at the cost of established norms of liberal democracy.