Free and Always Will Be? On Social Media Participation as it Undermines Individual Autonomy

Canadian Journal of Practical Philosophy 5 (1):52-65 (2021)
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Open Access: Social media participation undermines individual autonomy in ways that ought to concern ethicists. Discussions in the philosophical literature are concerned primarily with egregious conduct online such as harassment and shaming, keeping the focus on obvious ills to which no one could consent; this prevents a wider understanding of the risks and harms of quotidian social media participation. Two particular concerns occupy me: social media participation carries the risks of (1) negatively formative experiences and (2) continuous partial attention due to our habituation to the variable rewards that social media platforms provide. Although social media offer benefits as well as risks, self-knowledge of whether one benefits more than one suffers from one’s social media participation is vexed by the very processes involved in participating. We are not as free to leave social media as we are to enter. I conclude with a consideration and rejection of the objections that the ubiquity of the practice indicates implied consent to risks, and that users of social media can simply choose not to use such communication technologies at all. I argue that we cannot be said to consent to enter into social media usage meaningfully, even implicitly, and we do not all have equally easy options to avoid the contexts that provide the stimuli of persistent desires.

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Kathryn J. Norlock
Trent University


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