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Philosophy 96 (3):335-358 (2021)
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In this paper I offer a philosophical analysis of the act of ‘liking’ a post on social media. First, I consider what it means to ‘like’ something. I argue that ‘liking’ is best understood as a phatic gesture; it signals uptake and anoints the poster’s positive face. Next, I consider how best to theorise the power that comes with amassing many ‘likes’. I suggest that ‘like’ tallies alongside posts institute and record a form of digital social capital. Finally, I consider whether ‘likes’ have ultimately improved online discourse. I argue that while the ‘liking’ function itself is relatively innocuous, public ‘like’ tallies introduce a corrosive motivation to online communication. By making the prospect of increased social capital perpetually salient to us, they encourage us to prioritise high levels of engagement over meaningful engagement.

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Lucy McDonald
Cambridge University


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