Truth and Communication in the Age of Misinformation from Kierkegaard to Social Media
In a tribute on the occasion of Soren Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday, Jeffery Frank writing for The New York Times, called him “rogue philosopher, great communicator.” By all accounts SK’s contribution to the field of the philosophy of communication is yet to be unfolded. His widely publicized quote stirs relevancy for our times:
“The daily press is the evil principle of the modern world, and time will only serve to disclose this fact with greater and greater clearness. The capacity of the newspaper for degeneration is sophistically without limit, since it can always sink lower and lower in its choice of readers. At last it will stir up all those dregs of humanity which no state or government can control.” (The Last Years: Journals 1853-5 quoted in Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels)
Although acknowledged primarily as philosopher of religion and ethics, Kierkegaard was also, equally significantly, a prescient scholar in communication theory – a field decades from emergence in his lifetime. Many of his principal contributions to human knowledge were very directly about the relationship between communication and truth
The evolution misinformation, although popularized in the press as a unitary political phenomenon under the label of “fake news”, comes with a significant number of changes in the mechanics of truth and epistemology. Computational truth, derived from non-empirical evidence, digital manipulation of multimedia, algorithm-based approaches to selection of evidence and the rise of social knowledge are challenging some of our basic assumptions about evidence and truth that have persisted for over 200 years.