The Role of Pseudo-Cognitive Authorities and Self-Deception in the Dissemination of Fake News – Open Information Science – article

The Role of Pseudo-Cognitive Authorities and Self-Deception in the Dissemination of Fake News

Thomas J. Froehlich | Open Information Science


This paper draws together insights from a variety of fields (including philosophy, psychology, information studies, sociology, politics, and media studies) to synthesize insight into why fake news is created, disseminated, sustained and authorized so as to understand how and why it is successful and how it might be challenged. The premier case for analysis will be Trump, his supporters, his party and his media. Central to this issue is the role of cognitive authorities, a notion first articulated and developed by Patrick Wilson (1983). Honest cognitive authorities have credibility and expertise and are regarded as trustworthy. Their knowledge, based on direct and verifiable knowledge, is sought, communicated and accepted, when an information seeker comes to them about a matter of which an information seeker has come to believe that they have expertise, credibility and knowledge. Pseudo- or false cognitive authorities appear to have the same qualities of credibility, expertise and trustworthiness, but on critical examination they fail in these qualities and strive to impose a partisan agenda irrespective of truth, evidence, logic or facts. Unfortunately, these conditions do not deter believers from accepting them. These authorities are of various types, such news programs or organizations, religious leaders, or social media sites, that create, propagate, authorize and legitimatize fake news stories, that partisan adherents are willing to accept and perpetuate through a form of collective self-deception and who will at the same time denigrate sources and cognitive authorities of genuine and verified information or knowledge. Starting with the InfoWars, we proceed to discuss the nature of the forms of false information on the internet, and the role of deception, particularly self-deception, social self-deception, and collective self-deception in the acceptance real fake news, which is authorized and legitimatized by pseudo-cognitive authorities. In the process we contrast genuine cognitive authorities with dishonest ones, and show how the psychological factors, motivations, and collective self-deception feed each other into a reinforcing collective self-deception so strong it may be equivalent to a cult. This dialogical process (pseudo-cognitive authorities deceiving and self-deceiving themselves and their listeners, who in turn “validate” those authorities through word-of-mouth and seeking and associating with like-minded groups) is reinforced by repetition, the Dunning-Kruger effect, agnotology, and other factors. At the conclusion the roles of information professionals will be examined concerning the difficulties confronting fake news and fake news adherents and developing paths for successful strategies in coping with them.


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