Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 287–297 | Cite as

Excellent online friendships: an Aristotelian defense of social media

  • Alexis Elder
Original Paper


I defend social media’s potential to support Aristotelian virtue friendship against a variety of objections. I begin with Aristotle’s claim that the foundation of the best friendships is a shared life. Friends share the distinctively human and valuable components of their lives, especially reasoning together by sharing conversation and thoughts, and communal engagement in valued activities. Although some have charged that shared living is not possible between friends who interact through digital social media, I argue that social media preserves the relevantly human and valuable portions of life, especially reasoning, play, and exchange of ideas. I then consider several criticisms of social media’s potential to host friendships, and refute or weaken the force of these objections, using this conception of a distinctively human shared life. I conclude that we should use the shared life to evaluate features of social media and norms for users’ conduct.


Friendship Social media Aristotle Privacy Shared activity 



Thanks to Randall J. Landau, Richard Volkman, Todd Mason, Katherine Fazekas, and Paul Bloomfield, for many fruitful conversations, both on- and offline, which gave rise to this paper, to two anonymous referees for ETHICOMP, and to the participants at ETHICOMP 2014, whose comments and questions proved enormously helpful. I also thank the SCSU students in my Spring 2014 course Ethics: Know Thyself, for their insightful observations and feedback on an early draft of the project, and Justin Grey for proofreading. Any remaining errors are, of course, mine alone.


  1. Aristotle (1999). Nicomachean ethics (2nd ed). Translated by Terence Irwin. Hackett. Google Scholar
  2. Bank, B. & Hansford, S. (2000). Gender and friendship: Why are men’s best same-sex friendships less intimate and supportive? Personal Relationships, 7(1), 63–78.Google Scholar
  3. Bloomfield, P. (2015). Friendship on facebook. In B. Beasley and M. Haney (Eds.), Social media and living well. Lexington Press. Google Scholar
  4. Briggle, A. (2008). Real friends: How the internet can foster friendship. Ethics and Information Technology, 10(1), 71–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cocking, D., & Matthews, S. (2000). Unreal friends. Ethics and Information Technology, 2(4), 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Derlega, V. J., Lewis, R. J., Harrison, S., Winstead, B., & Costanza, R. (1989). Gender differences in the initiation and attribution of tactile intimacy. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 13(2), 83–96.Google Scholar
  7. Elder, A. (2014). Why bad people can’t be good friends. Ratio, 27(1), 84–99.Google Scholar
  8. Ellison, N. B., Steinfeld, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook ‘‘friends’’: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), article 1.
  9. Fröding, B., & Peterson, M. (2012). Why virtual friendship is no genuine friendship. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3), 201–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hancock, J. (2007). Digital deception: Why, when and how people lie online. In K. McKenna, T. Postmes, U. Reips, & A. N. Joinson (Eds.), Oxford handbook of internet psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Holguin, J. (2005). "Abdullah-Bush stroll strikes nerve." CBS News, April 27. Retrieved from
  12. Ito, M., Horst, H. A., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., Pascoe, C. J., & Robinson, L. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project.
  13. Kaliarnta, S., Nihlén-Fahlquist, J., & Roeser, S. (2011). Emotions and ethical considerations of women undergoing IVF-treatments. HEC Forum, 23, 281–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. McFall, M. T. (2012). Real character-friends: Aristotelian friendship, living together, and technology. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3), 221–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Monsour, M. (1992). Meanings of intimacy in cross- and same-sex friendships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 9(2), 277–295.Google Scholar
  16. Munn, N. J. (2012). The reality of friendship within immersive virtual worlds. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(1), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rainie, L., Horrigan, J., Wellman, B., & Boase, J. (2006). The strength of Internet ties. Pew Internet and American Life Project.
  18. Søraker, J. H. (2012). How shall I compare thee? Comparing the prudential value of actual virtual friendship. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3), 209–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Strikwerda, L. & May, L. (1992). Male friendship and intimacy. Hypatia, 7(2), 110–125.Google Scholar
  20. Thomas, L. (1987). Friendship. Synthese, 72(198), 217–236.Google Scholar
  21. Vallor, S. (2012). Flourishing on facebook: Virtue friendship and new social media. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3), 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wallace, P. (1999). The psychology of the internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Walther, J. B. (2007). Selective self-presentation in computer-mediated communication: Hyperpersonal dimensions of technology, language, and cognition. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 2538–2557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease or supplement social capital? Social networks, participation, and community commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wohn, D. Y., Lampe, C., Wash, R., Ellison, N., Vitak, J. (2011). The “S” in social network games: Initiating, maintaining, and enhancing relationships. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 1–10). doi: 10.1109/HICSS.2011.400.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentSouthern Connecticut State UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations