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Philosophical Topics

Volume 50, Issue 2, Fall 2022
Social Minds in Digital Spaces

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Displaying: 1-7 of 7 documents

1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Neil Levy Conspiracy Theories as Serious Play
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Why do people endorse conspiracy theories? There is no single explanation: different people have different attitudes to the theories they say they believe. In this paper, I argue that for many, conspiracy theories are serious play. They’re attracted to conspiracy theories because these theories are engaging: it’s fun to entertain them (witness the enormous number of conspiracy narratives in film and TV). Just as the person who watches a conspiratorial film suspends disbelief for its duration, so many conspiracy theorists do not believe the theories they endorse; rather, they suspend disbelief in them. I argue that the serious play hypothesis explains some characteristic features of conspiracy theories, such as their gamification and the kind of relationship they have to evidence.
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Marianna B. Ganapini Absurd Stories, Ideologies & Motivated Cognition
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At times, weird stories such as the Pizzagate spread surprisingly quickly and widely. In this paper I analyze the mental attitudes of those who seem to take those absurdities seriously: I argue that those stories are often imagined rather than genuinely believed. Then I make room for the claim that often these imaginings are used to support group ideologies. My main contribution is to explain how that support actually happens by showing that motivated cognition can employ imagination as a seemingly rational tool to reinforce and protect ideologies.
3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Daniel Williams Identity-Defining Beliefs on Social Media
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When membership of a community depends on commitment to shared beliefs, the community is a belief-based coalition, and the beliefs are identity-defining beliefs. Belief-based coalitions are pervasive features of human social life and routinely drive motivated cognition and epistemically dysfunctional group dynamics. Despite this, they remain surprisingly undertheorized in social epistemology. This article (i) clarifies the properties of belief-based coalitions and identity-defining beliefs, (ii) explains why they often incentivize and coordinate epistemically dysfunctional forms of communication and cognitive labor, and (iii) argues that they provide a better explanation of many epistemic problems on social media than the concepts of epistemic bubbles, echo chambers, and gamification.
4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Eric Funkhouser Interactive Self-Deception in Digital Spaces
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Self-deceptive projects are frequently supported by our social environment, with others influencing both our motives and capacities for self-deception. Digital spaces offer even more opportunities for interactive self-deception. Digital platforms are incentivized to sort us and capture our engagement, and online users also have desires to be sorted and engaged. The execution of self-deception is partially offloaded to algorithms and social networks that filter our evidence, selectively draw our attention to evidence, offer rationalizations, and give us repetitive and emotion-laden feedback. Nevertheless, this is not so different from what we find in offline environments. Further, most of this offloading of information processing is willingly accepted by users and is in line with their desires. As such, responsibility for any motivationally biased beliefs largely lies with the individual internet user.
5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
David Barrett Political Polarization and Social Media
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A popular claim is that social media is a cause of contemporary high levels of political polarization. In this paper, I consider three of the most common kinds of arguments for the thesis. One type lays out a narrative of causes, tracing the causal steps between logging on to social media and later becoming more polarized. Another type uses computer modeling to show how polarized effects can arise from systems that are analogous to use of social media. The final type considers straightforward experimental evidence for the polarizing effect. I reject each of these arguments and explain why they are unconvincing.
6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Kenneth Boyd Testimonial Epistemic Rights in Online Spaces
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According to many theories of testimony, acts of testimony confer certain epistemic rights upon recipients, e.g., the right for the recipient to complain or otherwise hold the testifier responsible should the content of that testimony turn out to be false, and the right to “pass the epistemic buck”, such that the recipient can redirect relevant challenges they may encounter back to the testifier. While these discussions do not explicitly exclude testimonial acts that occur online, they do not specifically address them, either. Here, then, I will ask the following questions: do the differences between communicating in online and offline spaces affect our testimonial epistemic rights, and if so, how? While there is no singular “online space”, here I will focus on such spaces in which users communicate with one another, and in which communicated information can be vetted by other users (for example, social media). I argue that the characteristics of online testimony should make us think about testimonial epistemic rights differently, in two ways. First, whereas such rights have traditionally been conceived of as existing between the recipient and testifier, in many different types of online communication these rights exist between the recipient and a community. This is a result of the fact that online testimony is mediated, and in some cases partially determined by, a community of users. As such, testimonial epistemic rights in online spaces may be widely extended: while the original testifier still bears the brunt of responsibility for challenges, and is the primary buck-passee, all other members of the relevant community will also bear some such responsibilities. Second, the grounds of testimonial epistemic rights may differ in online spaces. Existing theories tend to ground such rights either in assurances provided by the testifier, or else norms that govern speech acts. I argue that testimony in online spaces should cause us to look to a third option, what I call norms of information sharing. The idea is that, given the highly social nature of online communication, a recipient acquires testimonial epistemic rights in virtue of having a reasonable expectation that information that is shared and vetted by the community meets certain standards. The grounds of online testimonial epistemic rights, then, is not primarily interpersonal or norms-based, but social.
7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Aydin Mohseni, Cailin O’Connor, James Owen Weatherall The Best Paper You’ll Read Today: Media Biases and the Public Understanding of Science
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Scientific curation, where scientific evidence is selected and shared, is essential to public belief formation about science. Yet common curation practices can distort the body of evidence the public sees. Focusing on science journalism, we employ computational models to investigate how such distortions influence public belief. We consider these effects for agents with and without confirmation bias. We find that standard journalistic practices can lead to significant distortions in public belief; that preexisting errors in public belief can drive further distortions in reporting; that practices that appear relatively unobjectionable can produce serious epistemic harm; and that, in some cases, common curation practices related to fairness and extreme reporting can lead to polarization.