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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 September 2018


Discussion of the phenomena of post-truth and fake news often implicates the closed epistemic networks of social media. The recent conversation has, however, blurred two distinct social epistemic phenomena. An epistemic bubble is a social epistemic structure in which other relevant voices have been left out, perhaps accidentally. An echo chamber is a social epistemic structure from which other relevant voices have been actively excluded and discredited. Members of epistemic bubbles lack exposure to relevant information and arguments. Members of echo chambers, on the other hand, have been brought to systematically distrust all outside sources. In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. It is crucial to keep these phenomena distinct. First, echo chambers can explain the post-truth phenomena in a way that epistemic bubbles cannot. Second, each type of structure requires a distinct intervention. Mere exposure to evidence can shatter an epistemic bubble, but may actually reinforce an echo chamber. Finally, echo chambers are much harder to escape. Once in their grip, an agent may act with epistemic virtue, but social context will pervert those actions. Escape from an echo chamber may require a radical rebooting of one's belief system.

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