Social Media, Emergent Manipulation, and Political Legitimacy

In Michael Klenk & Fleur Jongepier (eds.), The Philosophy of Online Manipulation. Routledge. pp. 353-369 (2022)
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Psychometrics firms such as Cambridge Analytica (CA) and troll factories such as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) have had a significant effect on democratic politics, through narrow targeting of political advertising (CA) and concerted disinformation campaigns on social media (IRA) (U.S. Department of Justice 2019; Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate 2019; DiResta et al. 2019). It is natural to think that such activities manipulate individuals and, hence, are wrong. Yet, as some recent cases illustrate, the moral concerns with these activities cannot be reduced simply to the effects they have on individuals. Rather, we will argue, the wrongness of these activities relates to the threats they present to the legitimacy of political orders. This occurs primarily through a mechanism we call “emergent manipulation,” rather than through the sort of manipulation that involves specific individuals.

Author Profiles

Alan Rubel
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Clinton Castro
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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