Towards a Critical Social Epistemology of Social Media

In Jennifer Lackey & Aidan McGlynn (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Social Epistemology (forthcoming)
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Abstract

What are the proper epistemic aims of social media sites? A great deal of social media critique presupposes an exceptionalist attitude, according to which social media is either uniquely good, or uniquely bad for our collective knowledge-generating practices. Exceptionalism about social media is troublesome, both because it leads to oversimplistic narratives, and because it prevents us making relevant comparisons to other epistemic systems. The goal of this chapter is to offer an anti-exceptionalist account of the epistemic aims of social media. I will argue that social systems (and epistemic institutions in general) 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 conflict. This means that there are epistemic dilemmas about how to design social media platforms (and other kinds of epistemic system) which can only be resolved by appealing to ethical considerations. This discussion highlights that just as in the political realm, there is no such thing as a neutral epistemic system.

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Joshua Habgood-Coote
University of Leeds

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