(Why) Is misinformation a problem?


In the last decade there has been a proliferation of research on misinformation. One important aspect of this work that receives less attention than it should is exactly why misinformation is a problem. To adequately address this question, we must first look to its speculated causes and effects. We examined different disciplines (computer science, economics, history, information science, journalism, law, media, politics, philosophy, psychology, sociology) that investigate misinformation. The consensus view points to advancements in information technology (e.g., the Internet, social media) as a main cause of the proliferation and increasing impact of misinformation, with a variety of illustrations of the effects. We critically analyzed both issues. As to the effects, misbehaviors are not yet reliably demonstrated empirically to be the outcome of misinformation; correlation as causation may have a hand in that perception. As to the cause, advancements in information technologies enable, as well as reveal, multitudes of interactions that represent significant deviations from ground truths through people’s new way of knowing (intersubjectivity). This, we argue, is illusionary when understood in light of historical epistemology. Both doubts we raise are used to consider the cost to established norms of liberal democracy that come from efforts to target the problem of misinformation.

Perspectives on Psychological Science