Do people fall for online disinformation, or do they actively utilize it as a tool to accomplish their goals? Currently, the notion of the members of the public as victims of deception and manipulation prevails in the debate. It emphasizes the need to limit people’s exposure to falsehoods and bolster their deficient reasoning faculties. However, the observed epistemic irrationality can also stem from politically motivated reasoning incentivized by digital platforms. In this context, the readily available disinformation facilitates an arms race in loyalty signaling via a public endorsement of fanciful partisan claims. Such a signaling arms race appears capable of derailing democratic decision-making perhaps more effectively than any known reasoning deficiency. Appreciating the role of an instrumentally rational cost-benefit calculus in triggering the disinformation crisis thus appears vital. Examining these themes, the paper contributes to the current debates in political epistemology and democratic theory.
Democratic crisis, Epistemic rationality, Fake news, Instrumental rationality, Social media