Accountability and Community on the Internet: A Plea for Restorative Justice

Journal of Applied Philosophy 37 (4):594-611 (2020)
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In this article, I analyze norm enforcement on social media, specifically cases where an agent has committed a moral transgression online and is brought to account by an Internet mob with incongruously injurious results in their offline life. I argue that users problematically imagine that they are members of a particular kind of moral community where shaming behaviors are not only acceptable, but morally required to ‘take down’ those who appear to violate community norms. I then demonstrate the costs that are associated with this strategy; the most worrisome being those that distort the nature of moral dialog and the purpose and effectiveness of accountability practices online, creating a vitriolic and polarising online environment. Because of these negative consequences, I suggest that we ought to hold others accountable for restorative ends. I argue that restorative accountability practices can help us cultivate new norms online that rely less for their enforcement upon negative acts such as shame, and more upon positive acts that focus upon the most appropriate way to make amends to the victim(s) and the community. In this sense, restorative accountability incorporates important elements from the ethics of care, a relational ethics that values creating, promoting, and restoring good social and personal relationships. I conclude by arguing that accountability practices premised on the ethics of care produce better outcomes for the victim (s) of a moral violation, the transgressor, and the community.

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Laura W. Kane
Worcester State University


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