Online misinformation as a problem of embodied cognition

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This paper argues that the creation and propagation of misinformation in online environments, particularly in social media, is confronted with specific challenges which are not to be found in offline communication. Starting from the widely accepted definition of misinformation as 'deliberate production and distribution of misleading information' (Floridi, 2013) which we designate as the semantic view of misinformation, we aim to provide a different definition of misinformation based primarily on the pragmatics of communication and on the role of the technological environment. While misinformation in online environments is also false and misleading, its main characteristic is the truncated way in which it is perceived and re-interpreted and, we will argue, this way of processing information belongs foremost to the online environment as such rather than to a defective way of information-processing from the side of the epistemic agent. From this pragmatic perspective, sometimes misinformation is true information which is interpreted and propagated in a biased way. One of the major features of the online environments which makes it for a medium prone to mis-interpretation and bias concerns a way of leading to impoverished sensory information processing. Assuming an embodied cognition view – in its compatibilist version, see (Varela et al., 1991; Clark, 1997) - then the environment in which we exercise our cognitive abilities has a deciding role for our ability to function as epistemic agents because through our bodies and we acquire cognitive states dependent on the environment to which our bodies are exposed. Following this embodied cognition assumption, then the online environment presents itself as a challenge through the ways in which it prioritises certain senses while obliterating others: the visual senses are primordial to the detriment of other senses such as touch, smell, and even hearing; moreover, we interact with others in online environments through text messages which favor explicit meanings while tacit communication and other pragmatic aspects of communication relying on body-language and non-verbal signs are lost.

This presentation will describe the constellation of aspects which characterise the pragmatics of communication in online environments and then show why this kind of communicational situation is biased leading to what we will call an 'incomplete pragmatics' of communication. In online environments, we will argue, misunderstandings are the rule and not the exception, because of the dis-embodied and text-biased forms of communication. We will illustrate our theory of incomplete pragmatics of online communication with several case studies of online misinformation based on factually true information which is systematically misunderstood.


Clark, A. (1997). Being There: Putting Brain Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58, 7-19. Floridi, Luciano. The philosophy of information. OUP Oxford, 2013. Varela, F., Thompson, E., Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event16th international congress of logic, methodology and philosophy of science and technology - Faculty of Architecture, Czech Technical University in Prague., Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 5 Aug 201910 Sept 2019
Conference number: 16


Conference16th international congress of logic, methodology and philosophy of science and technology
Abbreviated titleCLMPST2019
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


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