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The interpersonal is political: unfriending to promote civic discourse on social media


Despite the initial promise of social media platforms as a means of facilitating discourse on matters of civic discourse, in practice it has turned out to impair fruitful conversation on civic issues by a number of means. From self-isolation into echo chambers, to algorithmically supported filter bubbles, to widespread failure to engage politically owing to psychological phenomena like the ‘spiral of silence’, a variety of factors have been blamed. I argue that extant accounts overlook the importance of interpersonal relationships to sustaining quality civic discourse on social media. Drawing on an Aristotelian account of friendship with an emphasis on the value of interpersonal difference plus the influence of interactions on individual character, I argue that a common scapegoat for the failure of civic discourse online—the variety of “unfriend” disconnection tools offered on various platforms—actually show promise at promoting better-quality civic conversation and overcoming the obstacles present on social media platforms.

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    For a survey of concerns involving filter bubbles and democracy, see Bozdag and van den Hoven (2015).


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Correspondence to Alexis Elder.

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Elder, A. The interpersonal is political: unfriending to promote civic discourse on social media. Ethics Inf Technol 22, 15–24 (2020).

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  • Social media
  • Filter bubbles
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Civic discourse