In the beginning of the 21st century, new media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube began to transform the social, political and informational habits of individuals and institutions all over the world. Due to the rapid changes of social networking technologies, this phenomenon needs more attention, because the number of human beings initiate and/or maintain virtually every type of ethically significant social bond or role is being reshaped: friend-to-friend, parent-to-child, co-worker-to co-worker, employer-to-employee, to offer just a partial list. Furthermore, the ethical implications of these technologies are not strictly interpersonal.
As is in the case with privacy, identity, and friendship on SNS, ethical debates about the impact of SNS on freedom and democracy in the public sphere must be taken under consideration as a broader discussion about the political implications of the Internet (Vallor, 2015). A related topic of concern is the potential of the Internet to fragment the public sphere by encouraging the formation of a plurality of ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’, where extremism will be promoted and also preventing citizens of a democracy from recognizing their shared interests and experiences (Sunstein 2008).
To begin with, sites like Facebook and Twitter facilitate the sharing of, and exposure to, an extremely diverse range of different types of discourse. On any given day on Facebook a user may encounter in his/her Home Page a link to an article of a political magazine, followed by a link to a new scientific study, followed by a photo of a popular political figure along with a clever and funny caption, followed by vacation photos, cultural events and birthday reminders. So, while the user is free to choose which forms of discourse to pay closer attention to and which to hide or prioritize can only protect himself/herself against the extreme narrowness of discourse that is contrary to the public sphere.
Second, users can often unfriend or hide the posts of those with whom they disagree in order to effectively guard themselves from unwelcome or contrary opinions. So, the high visibility and perceived value of social connections on the social media platforms makes this option less attractive as a consistent strategy. According to Vallor (2010), affordances or gradients of particular technologies in given contexts make certain patterns of use more attractive or convenient for users.
Finally, another issue for online democracy is the quality of informational exchanges on SNS and the extent to which they promote a dialogical public sphere are connected with the critical rationality. Exposure to knowledgeable opinions and reliable evidential sources are enabled by most of the popular SNS, but exposure does not assure attention and consumption. Moreover, most of the popular SNS promote norms of responsive practice; these norms tend to privilege shortness and depth in communication; which is essential to a thriving public sphere (Vallor, 2012).
Sunstein, C., (2008), “Democracy and the Internet,” in Information Technology and Moral Philosophy, J. van den Hoven and J. Weckert (eds.), Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 93–110.
Vallor, S., (2010), “Social Networking Technology and the Virtues,” Ethics and Information Technology, 12 (2): 157–170.
Vallor, S., (2012), “Flourishing on Facebook: Virtue Friendship and New Social Media,” Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3): 185–199.
Vallor, S., (2015). Social Networking and Ethics. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-social-networking/