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I run a practical ethics course at Royal Holloway for second- and third-year undergraduates, and today our topic was friendship and social media. More specifically, we considered whether the increasing tendency for our friendships to be mediated and maintained through the use of websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr might be changing the nature of our friendships, and whether this is a good or a bad thing.
The small but growing philosophical literature on this topic is—unsurprisingly—pretty recent. And from what I could tell from my inexhaustive survey of it, it tends to be premised on the view that social media is a threat to the institution of friendship, in that those writers who think it is not a threat (or that it is less of a threat than might first be thought) take themselves to have to argue against this premise. It is perhaps unsurprising that the debate should take this form; after all, we are used to the pervasive ideas that being glued to our smartphones is damaging to our relationships, that taking a social media detox by turning off our wifi connection for the weekend is a wholesome thing to do, and that face-to-face interactions are somehow healthier than online interactions. That we frequently encounter these ideas through memes shared on social media might be thought to prove the point.
As I was preparing for my class on this topic, it occurred to me that these discussions are probably biased in the following way.
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