What is Fake News?

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:923-946 (2018)
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An important way in which philosophy can contribute to public discourse is by clarifying concepts that are central to it. This paper is a philosophical contribution in that spirit. It offers an account of fake news—a notion that has entered public debate following the 2016 US presidential election. On the view I defend, fake news is Frankfurtian bullshit that is asserted in the form of a news publication. According to Frankfurt’s famous account, bullshit has two characteristics. There is, firstly, an “indifference to how things really are” on the part of the bullshitter. This does not mean that what a bullshitter says is always false. It might well be true. What it does mean, however, is that, unlike a liar, who tries to convince us that a given statement he believes to be false is true, a bullshitter simply does not care whether what he says is true. The same, I believe, is true of the publisher of fake news. Secondly, the bullshitter misrepresents “in a certain way … what he is up to”. Likewise, the publisher of fake news seems to misrepresent what he is up to. It appears that he wants to hide his actual motives. At any rate, so I will argue.

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Nikil S. Mukerji
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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