Re-assessing Google as Epistemic Tool in the Age of Personalisation

The Proceedings of SACAIR2022 Online Conference, the 3rd Southern African Conference for Artificial Intelligence Research (2022)
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Google Search is arguably one of the primary epistemic tools in use today, with the lion’s share of the search-engine market globally. Scholarship on countering the current scourge of misinformation often recommends “digital lit- eracy” where internet users, especially those who get their information from so- cial media, are encouraged to fact-check such information using reputable sources. Given our current internet-based epistemic landscape, and Google’s dominance of the internet, it is very likely that such acts of epistemic hygiene will take place via Google Search. The question arises whether Google Search is fit for purpose, given the apparent misalignment the general epistemic goal of promoting true beliefs and the greater online commercial ecosystem in which it is embedded. I argue that Google Search is epistemically problematic as it stands, mainly due to the opacity related to the parameters it uses for personalising search results. I further argue that in as far as an ordinary internet user is legitimately ignorant of Google’s workings, uses it in an “ordinary manner”, and is generally unable to avoid using it in the current information environment, they are not ep- istemically blameworthy for any false beliefs that they acquire via it. I conclude that too much emphasis is currently placed on individual epistemic practices and not enough on our information environment and epistemic tools when it comes to countering misinformation

Author's Profile

Tanya de Villiers-Botha
University of Stellenbosch


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