Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 7, 2019

Disengagement in the Digital Age: A Virtue Ethical Approach to Epistemic Sorting on Social Media

  • Kirsten J. Worden EMAIL logo


Using the Aristotelian virtue of friendship and concept of practical wisdom, this paper argues that engaging in political discourse with friends on social media is conducive to the pursuit of the good life because it facilitates the acquisition of the socio-political information and understanding necessary to live well. Previous work on social media, the virtues, and friendship focuses on the initiation and maintenance of the highest form of friendship (Aristotle’s ‘ideal friendship’) online. I argue that the information necessary to live well can come from non-ideal, civic friends in addition to ideal friends. In order to acquire this information successfully via social media, users should practice inclusive engagement, self-control, discretion, and audience-sensitivity in their cyber interactions. This argument is salient given the current concerns about ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles’, in which users ignore or block out friends and news sources that support political perspectives different from one’s own.


I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of this paper for their insightful commentary which prompted me to articulate my thoughts here more thoroughly. Special thanks are also due to Glen Miller for his openness to my perspective on the ethical issues of social media and for his guidance throughout the process of constructing and refining my argument.


Allcott, H. and Gentzkow, M. (2017). ‘Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election’, Journal of Economic Perspectives 31 (2): 211–236.10.3386/w23089Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle. (1984). ‘Nichomachean Ethics’, in J. Barnes (ed.). The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation Vol. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).Search in Google Scholar

Bakshy, E., Messing, S., and Adamic, L.A. (2015). ‘Exposure to Ideologically Diverse News and Opinion on Facebook’, Science 348 (6239): 1130–1132.10.1126/science.aaa1160Search in Google Scholar

Bozdag, E. (2013). ‘Bias in Algorithmic Filtering and Personalization’, Ethics and Information Technology 15 (3): 209–227.10.1007/s10676-013-9321-6Search in Google Scholar

Briggle, A. (2008). ‘Real Friends: How the Internet Can Foster Friendship’, Ethics and Information Technology 10 (1): 71–79.10.1007/s10676-008-9160-zSearch in Google Scholar

Cocking, D. and Matthews, S. (2000). ‘Unreal Friends’, Ethics and Information Technology 2 (4): 223–231.10.4324/9781315259697-15Search in Google Scholar

Cohen, J. (2018). ‘Exploring Echo-Systems: How Algorithms Shape Immersive Media Environments’, Journal of Media Literacy Education 10 (2): 139–151.10.23860/JMLE-2018-10-2-8Search in Google Scholar

Del Vicario, M., Bessi, A., Zollo, F., Petroni, F., Scala, A., Caldarelli, G., Stanley, H.E., and Quattrociocchi, W. (2016). ‘The Spreading of Misinformation Online’, PNAS 113 (3): 554–559.10.1073/pnas.1517441113Search in Google Scholar

Duggan, M. and Smith, A. (2016). ‘The Political Environment on Social Media’, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (accessed on 12th December 2017).Search in Google Scholar

Elder, A. (2014a). ‘Excellent Online Friendships: An Aristotelian Defense of Social Media’, Ethics and Information Technology 16 (4): 287–297.10.1007/s10676-014-9354-5Search in Google Scholar

Elder, A. (2014b). ‘Why Bad People Can’t Be Good Friends’, Ratio 27 (1): 84–99.10.4324/9781315159577-4Search in Google Scholar

Eva Matsa, K. and Shearer, E. (2018). ‘News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018’, Pew Research Center, Washington, D. C. (accessed on 7th July 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Facebook Help Center. (2019a). ‘What’s the Difference between Top Stories and Most Recent Stories on News Feed?’, Facebook. (accessed on 14th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Facebook Help Center. (2019b). ‘How Do I View Posts on My News Feed in Most Recent Order?’, Facebook. (accessed on 14th J.M.).Search in Google Scholar

Flaxman, S., Goel, S., and Rao, J.M. (2016). ‘Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Online News Consumption’, Public Opinion Quarterly 80 (S1): 298–320.10.1093/poq/nfw006Search in Google Scholar

Floridi, L. (2005). ‘Is Semantic Information Meaningful Data?’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2): 351–370.10.1111/j.1933-1592.2005.tb00531.xSearch in Google Scholar

Frӧding, B. and Peterson, M. (2012). ‘Why Virtual Friendship Is No Genuine Friendship’, Ethics and Information Technology 14 (3): 201–207.10.1007/s10676-011-9284-4Search in Google Scholar

Garrett, R.K. (2009a). ‘Echo Chambers Online?: Politically Motivated Selective Exposure Among Internet News Users’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14 (2): 265–285.10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01440.xSearch in Google Scholar

Garrett, R.K. (2009b). ‘Politically Motivated Reinforcement Seeking: Reframing the Selective Exposure Debate’, Journal of Communication 59 (4): 676–699.10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01452.xSearch in Google Scholar

Heatherly, K.A., Lu, Y., and Lee, J.K. (2017). ‘Filtering Out the Other Side? Cross-Cutting and Like-Minded Discussions on Social Networking Sites’, New Media & Society 19 (8): 1271–1289.10.1177/1461444816634677Search in Google Scholar

Honan, M. (2014). ‘I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me’, Wired. (accessed on 15th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Humphreys, A. (2016). Social Media: Enduring Principles (New York, NY: Oxford University Press).Search in Google Scholar

Ingram, M. (2017). ‘Google’s Fake News Problem Could Be Worse Than on Facebook’, Fortune. (accessed on 15th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Iyengar, S. and Hahn, K.S. (2009). ‘Red Media, Blue Media: Evidence of Ideological Selectivity in Media Use’, Journal of Communication 59 (1): 19–39.10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.01402.xSearch in Google Scholar

Iyengar, S., Sood, G., and Lelkes, Y. (2012). ‘Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization’, Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 405–431.10.1093/poq/nfs038Search in Google Scholar

Iyengar, S. and Westwood, S. (2015). ‘Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization’, American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 690–707.10.1111/ajps.12152Search in Google Scholar

Lapidot-Lefler, N. and Barak, A. (2012). ‘Effects of Anonymity, Invisibility, and Lack of Eye-Contact on Toxic Online Disinhibition’, Computers in Human Behavior 28 (2): 434–443.10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.014Search in Google Scholar

Lau, R.R. and Redlawsk, D.P. (2001). ‘Advantages and Disadvantanges of Cognitive Heuristics in Political Decision Making’, American Journal of Political Science 45 (4): 951–971.10.2307/2669334Search in Google Scholar

Leontsini, E. (2013). ‘The Motive of Society: Aristotle on Civic Friendship, Justice, and Concord’, Res Publica 19 (1): 21–35.10.1007/s11158-012-9204-4Search in Google Scholar

Mason, L. (2015). ‘“I Disrespectfully Agree”: The Differential Effects of Partisan Sorting on Social and Issue Polarization’, American Journal of Political Science 59 (1): 128–145.10.1111/ajps.12089Search in Google Scholar

McFall, M.T. (2012). ‘Real Character-Friends: Aristotelian Friendship, Living Together, and Technology’, Ethics and Information Technology 14 (3): 221–230.10.1007/s10676-012-9297-7Search in Google Scholar

Mutz, D. (2002). ‘Cross-Cutting Social Networks: Testing Democratic Theory in Practice’, American Political Science Review 96 (1): 111–126.10.1017/S0003055402004264Search in Google Scholar

Nelson, J.L. and Webster, J.G. (2017). ‘The Myth of Partisan Selective Exposure: A Portrait of the Online Political News Audience’, Social Media & Society 3 (3): 1–13.10.1177/2056305117729314Search in Google Scholar

Nguyen, C.T. (2018). ‘Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles’, Episteme 1–21.10.1017/epi.2018.32Search in Google Scholar

Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (New York, NY: The Penguin Press).Search in Google Scholar

Redlawsk, D.P., Civettini, A.J.W., and Emmerson, K.M. (2010). ‘The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever “Get It”?’, Political Psychology 31 (4): 563–593.10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00772.xSearch in Google Scholar

Redlawsk, D.P. (2002). ‘Hot Cognition or Cool Consideration? Testing the Effects of Motivated Reasoning on Political Decision Making’, The Journal of Politics 64 (4): 1021–1044.10.1111/1468-2508.00161Search in Google Scholar

Rini, R. (2017). ‘Fake News and Partisan Epistemology’, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 27 (2): E-43–E-64.10.1353/ken.2017.0025Search in Google Scholar

Sharp, R. (2012). ‘The Obstacles against Reaching the Highest Level of Aristotelian Friendship Online’, Ethics and Information Technology 14 (3): 231–239.10.1007/s10676-012-9296-8Search in Google Scholar

Silverman, C. (2016). ‘This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook’, Buzzfeed News. article/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook (accessed on 29th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Smith, A. (2018). ‘Many Facebook Users Don’t Understand How the Site’s News Feed Works’, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (accessed on 7th July 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Strickler, R. (2018). ‘Deliberate with the Enemy? Polarization, Social Identity, and Attitudes toward Disagreement’, Political Research Quarterly 71 (1): 3–18.10.1177/1065912917721371Search in Google Scholar

Stroud, N.J. (2008). ‘Media Use and Political Predispositions: Revisiting the Concept of Selective Exposure’, Political Behavior 30 (3): 341–366.10.1007/s11109-007-9050-9Search in Google Scholar

Stroud, N.J. (2011). Niche News: The Politics of News Choice (New York, NY: Oxford University Press).10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755509.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Sunstein, C. (2001). (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).Search in Google Scholar

Taber, C.S. and Lodge, M. (2006). ‘Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs’, American Journal of Political Science 50 (3): 755–769.10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00214.xSearch in Google Scholar

Tucker, J., Guess., A., Barberá, P., Vaccari, C., Siegel, A., Sanovich, S., Stukal, D., and Nyhan., B. (2018). ‘Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature’, Available at SSRN: or (accessed on 19th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Vallor, S. (2010). ‘Social Networking Technology and the Virtues’, Ethics and Information Technology 12 (2): 157–170.10.4324/9781003075011-34Search in Google Scholar

Vallor, S. (2012). ‘Flourishing on Facebook: Virtue Friendship & New Social Media’, Ethics and Information Technology 14 (3): 185–199. doi:10.1007/s10676-010-9262-2 (accessed on 29th April 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Vallor, S. (2016). Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting (New York, NY: Oxford University Press).10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190498511.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Weeks, B.E. and Garrett, R.K. (2014). ‘Electoral Consequences of Political Rumors: Motivated Reasoning, Candidate Rumors, and Vote Choice during the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election’, International Journal of Public Opinion Research 26 (4): 401–422.10.1093/ijpor/edu005Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2019-11-07
Published in Print: 2019-11-18

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 23.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button