Dark Patterns and Epistemic Ignorance: an Educational Crisis


  • Stockman University of Winchester
  • Richard Wilson Towson University




dark patterns, education, epistemic ignorance, digital literacy, indoctrination


In this paper, we discuss how online AI stimulates epistemic ignorance. Early visions of online information search and retrieval processes proposed a utopian and empowering space for individuals. Today’s crisis paradoxically presents us with an unprecedented accumulation of new information and access to it, yet also the colonisation of this knowledge by those who seek to erode critical thought. By ‘epistemic ignorance’, we mean the condition which is systematically created by the patterns of mis- and disinformation that prevent knowledge seekers from gaining verified knowledge. We argue not only has the ‘knower’ or knowledge seeker become the ‘known’ (sometimes without knowing it), their ability ‘to know’ is also intentionally manipulated by dark patterns. Moreover, their ‘known’ status allows for their subtle indoctrination, and erosion of criticality. This makes the crisis an educational one. To illustrate, we consider epistemic mechanisms on Facebook pertaining to the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. We contend these ‘dark AI patterns’ intentionally aim for systemic indoctrination, and affective indoctrination, by engaging in the construction of epistemic ignorance. Our focus is on the political agenda; which is common in the wider discussion of indoctrination in education. Many educational philosophers have taken a critical interest in the power of education to indoctrinate. The formal educational space is an effective vehicle to do so – and now the informal education we receive through social media is as well. Through algorithms, we are taught to think a certain way.  This new crisis has not yet been considered an educational one, while in every moment, the coercive powers of online AI drive audiences towards greater uncritical acceptance of knowledge and information. Perhaps we can reverse the educational oppression with the introduction of ‘light patterns’.