Bioethics Blogs

Fake News – A Role for Neuroethics?

By Neil Levy
Neil Levy is professor of philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney, and a senior research fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.

Fake news proliferates on the internet, and it sometimes has consequential effects. It may have played a role in the recent election of Donald Trump to the White House, and the Brexit referendum. Democratic governance requires a well-informed populace: fake news seems to threaten the very foundations of democracy.
How should we respond to its challenge? The most common response has been a call for greater media literacy. Fake news often strikes more sophisticated consumers as implausible. But there are reasons to think that the call for greater media literacy is unlikely to succeed as a practical solution to the problem of fake news. For one thing, the response seems to require what it seeks to bring about: a better informed population. For another, while greater sophistication might allow us to identify many instances of fake news, some of it is well crafted enough to fool the most sophisticated (think of the recent report that the FBI was fooled by a possibly fabricated Russian intelligence report).
Moreover, there is evidence that false claims have an effect on our attitudes even when we initially identify the claims as false. Familiarity – processing fluency, in the jargon of psychologists – influences the degree to which we come to regard a claim as plausible. Due to this effect, repeating urban legends in order to debunk them may leave people with a higher degree of belief in the legends than before.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.