Towards a Critical Social Epistemology for Social Media

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What are the proper epistemic aims of social media sites? A great deal of social media critique is in the grips of an Epistemic Apocalypse narrative, which claims that the technologies associated with social media have catastrophically undermined our traditional knowledge-generating practices, and that the remedy is to recreate our pre-catastrophe practices as closely as possible. This narrative relies on a number of questionable assumptions, and problematically narrows the imaginative possibilities for redesigning social media. Our goal in this paper is to shake off the epistemic apocalypse narrative and offer a better account of the epistemic aims of social media. I will pursue a critical approach to social epistemology that appreciates the non-ideal features of epistemic systems, and the ways in which knowledge production can be a site of domination, and apply this framework to thinking about the epistemic design of social media sites. I will argue that social systems ought to pursue three distinct epistemic goals: promoting good epistemic outcomes for users, realising epistemically good institutional features, and achieving structural epistemic justice. Although these goals are often mutually supportive, I will consider a number of cases in which these values lead to dilemmas about how to design epistemic institutions, which can only be resolved by appealing to ethical considerations. I will close by considering some ways in which social media might realise these aims.
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Archival date: 2021-02-08
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