University of Twente Student Theses


On the Moral Responsibility of Social Networking Sites : Existentialist Ethics and Harm to Freedom

Anoniem, A. (2023) On the Moral Responsibility of Social Networking Sites : Existentialist Ethics and Harm to Freedom.

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Embargo date:1 March 2025
Abstract:This thesis has been written to reflect on the effect of social networking sites (SNS) on the freedom of their users through the lens of a philosophical framework which has not extensively been used in philosophy of technology. I sought to answer the following questions: are social networking sites harming freedom and how can existentialist ethics provide a better understanding of this harm? In order to answer these questions, I have relied on the analytical reading of primary and secondary sources, beginning the thesis with the review of selected views within the debate on SNS in an attempt to find common denominators in the assumptions which were made about freedom. In order to apply the framework of existentialism to this question to make the case for its added-value, I have then used Simone de Beauvoir’s 1947 essay, the Ethics of Ambiguity, which lays out the applied ethics of existentialism. What I have found is a consensus on the fact that SNS do cause harm to freedom. In the mainstream and philosophical literature which I discussed, this harm is often conceptualized as a loss of control or as a loss of power on the part of the users. I have explained that relying on the idea of control (or power) can generate challenging objections, and that equating freedom to control can fail to engage the responsibility of SNS if we do not consider that the loss of control on the users’ part is substantial. Indeed, given that most of us choose to continue using SNS despite addictive algorithmic curation and well-known stories of widespread manipulation, it is best to rely on a framework which encompasses the reasons why we would choose to surrender freedom to SNS. When applying existentialist ethics, I have as such found that harm to freedom can be conceptualized in a more nuanced manner and needs not be a binary opposition between, for instance, users and algorithms. Existentialist ethics has allowed me to review the way in which SNS are structured and the type of creation and conversation which they incentivize in the light of what de Beauvoir calls authenticity, and which amounts to the positive realization of freedom. I have found that, in our search for solutions to make SNS more ethical, we must take into account the fact that being free does not only mean being free “from”, and that SNS, as much as they are a threat to freedom, also have the potential and the responsibility to positively contribute to freedom.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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