Do social media such as Facebook enhance democratic values?



It might seem impossible to imagine the public sphere without digital platforms as today's social media. The number of Facebook's users is about third of the world's population - that points to an enormous potential influence. Social networks as Facebook enable communication and exposure to information and can enhance activism positively. On the other hand, such networks also serve as a platform for manipulation and misinformation. But mechanisms of misinformation have always existed - allowing people to lie might be an integral part of a democratic sphere. Or does it contradict democratic values? Are digital platforms of social media neutral regarding value?


Posted 2021-01-28T21:24:50.810

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Question was closed 2021-01-29T13:22:47.693

7Important issue. But you should remember that misinformation is not the only worry regarding social nets. Algorithms underlying the way information is chosen, targeted and filtered being another central worry because it implies on possibly non-democratic power. – Jordan S – 2021-01-28T21:40:05.223

Enhance them compared to what, no Facebook or multiple facebooks? Some other forms of mass communication? The question makes little sense without a standard of comparison. – Conifold – 2021-01-28T23:32:25.153

2@Conifold, compared to no Facebook. But even without such comparison, it makes sense to ponder whether values as diversity, openness, and the like benefit from the accessibility to information and humans, or otherwise being damaged. Of course you may say it depends, but there is a reality and some experience we may infer from. – Louis – 2021-01-28T23:36:10.887

1No Facebook and what instead? The old system of papers and TV? Something can be more or less accessible or more or less damaged only compared to something else. To make this question non-trivial you need to specify what the alternatives are, otherwise there is nothing to ponder. Compared to nothing Facebook is trivially better. So are even Chinese state media, for that matter. What makes current discussions substantive is that people are proposing alternatives that, arguably, would serve democracy better. E.g. breaking up Facebook like AT&T and Microsoft were, or regulating it, or cloning it. – Conifold – 2021-01-29T00:06:03.813

2Replace "Facebook" with "murder." Do we really have to go down the rabbit hole asking what the alternatives are? Most people prefer no murder to murder. People who take democracy seriously will likely prefer no Facebook to Facebook. It's that simple.

On the other hand, social networks aren't going away. Therefore, a logical alternative might be a website with functions similar to Facebook or Twitter but that's more honest and transparent. – David Blomstrom – 2021-01-29T01:30:38.023

1"Compared to nothing Facebook is trivially better."

That's a very hard statement to defend. Unless, of course, we fell into a void where the only thing that existed was Facebook. – David Blomstrom – 2021-01-29T01:32:16.403


Historian Niall Ferguson draws a parallel between the internet and the printing press. Early on the printing press helped bring us witch panics, and the wars of religion like the 30 Years War. Later, political ferment. I'd say universal education was not just facilitated, but required, by invention of the printing press. Social media has become the 'public square', but is regulated like libraries. Cory Doctorow has a superb overview of the reforms we need now

– CriglCragl – 2021-01-29T02:19:36.327

1Define "democratic values" as used here. Because James Madison, for instance, would certainly think that social media a perfect match for democracies, them being " as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death." – Mary – 2021-01-29T02:35:10.327

2The first question should probably be whether lying is integral to "democratic values" (and what that means). But going further than that would probably have more to do with sociology and psychology than philosophy. It's easy to see that unbiased facts spreading wide and fast could be good, but if lies or out-of-context facts do the same, that might be bad. The only way I can really see to figure out whether the former outweighs the latter is to see what actually happens in the real world (which necessarily also depends on the specifics of the site). That's well beyond the scope of philosophy. – NotThatGuy – 2021-01-29T10:58:28.020

3"It seems impossible to imagine the public sphere without digital platforms as today's social media.". You only need to go 10-15 years back. For most people its not hard to imagine at all, its just remembering. – Polygnome – 2021-01-29T11:37:04.247

1Access to social media is wide spread, but effective use of it is limited to those with ability. I think it will promote meritocratic values so long as it remains widely accessible. – laertiades – 2021-01-29T17:28:01.920



I think this question requires a little disambiguation. By "enhance Democratic values" do you mean improve the values themselves or promote the better exhibition of them in reality? Assuming you mean the latter, I think there is an analogous principle that I picked up reading Toynbee. I don't have it in front of me but it was something to the effect that the more military force is specialized the more it promotes authoritarian government as during the medieval knight, and the more common it is the more it promotes democratic rule, as during the frontier rifle. If we view the dissemination of information as a source of power influential in politics then I think the answer might depend on how specialized social media is. In some ways it is quite specialized in the way it is determined which content is displayed and I think this aspect could be over represented by a certain expert class. Also there is the potential for special interests to obtain preferential treatment in that the source of the power is very centralized. This would promote the interests of a privileged class.

I think, worth considering is to what extent democratic values are complimentary to or are juxtaposed to meritocratic values. Perhaps it would be socially salubrious if the obtainment of power within the realm of social media favored whoever was most effective rather than all equally.


Posted 2021-01-28T21:24:50.810

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