Volume 20

Media Power Through Epistemic Funnels

by Erin Miller

Media companies are often accused of having too much power. But what sort of “power” do they have? In this essay, I offer an account of one crucial form of media power: the power to change a person’s beliefs. Such power is possible when the person gets most of their information on a given topic from one media company—that is, when the person has fallen within what I call an epistemic funnel. A company exercises this power by severely skewing the information pools of persons within their funnel in favor of or against certain viewpoints. I claim that exercising this form of power, like exercising coercive forms of power, subverts the target’s agency. It does so not by thwarting the target’s plans but by undermining their epistemic rationality, i.e., their ability to form justified beliefs. The latter, I argue, requires reviewing evidence from multiple and competing viewpoints. Thus, to contain this form of media power, measures should be taken to diversify media consumers’ evidence pools.

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