Cognitive Bias, Fake News, Epistemic Virtue, Epistemic Pornography, Nudge, Pornography, Moral Elevation, Moral Exemplar


Epistemology | Gender and Sexuality | Philosophy


Purpose: This paper analyzes some of the epistemically pernicious effects of use of the Internet and social media. In light of this analysis, it introduces the concept of epistemic pornography and argues that epistemic agents both can and should avoid consuming and sharing epistemic pornography.

Design/Methodology/Approach: The paper draws on research on epistemic virtue, cognitive biases, social media use and its epistemic consequences, Fake News, paternalistic nudging, pornography, moral philosophy, moral elevation, and moral exemplar theory to analyze the epistemically pernicious effects of the Internet and social media.

Findings: There is a growing consensus that Internet and social media activate and enable human cognitive biases leading to what are here called "failures of epistemic virtue". Common formulations of this problem involve the concept of "Fake News", and strategies for responding to the problem often have much in common with paternalistic "nudging". While Fake News is a problem and the nudging approach holds out promise, the paper concludes that both place insufficient emphasis on the agency and responsibility of users of the Internet and social media, and that nudging represents a necessary but not sufficient response.

Originality/Value: The essay offers the concept of epistemic pornography as a concept distinct from but related to "fake news" - distinct precisely because it places greater emphasis on personal agency and responsibility - and, following recent literature on moral elevation and moral exemplars, as a heuristic that agents might use to economize their efforts at resisting irrational cognitive biases and attempting to live up to their epistemic duties.

Original Citation

Spear, A. (2019). "Breaking the epistemic pornography habit: Cognitive biases, digital discourse environments, and moral exemplars", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society.