Looking for the truth online. Communities of inquiry on social media

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


Online social media are platforms designed to foster different functions for their users such as relating, providing entertainment and also bring in advertising revenue. In spite of its initial intent, people use social media (SM) increasingly for epistemic purposes: information gathering and sharing and belief formation. Since SM were not designed to function as journalistic platforms, with no fact-checking and no editorial overseeing, their epistemic functions are far from virtuous, often leading to undesirable phenomena such as echo-chambers and trapping their users in filter-bubbles. Recent disinformation campaigns have led to the increasing polarisation of users into isolated communities of believers, instead of open communities of inquiry. If, following Jason Baehr, inquiry is taken to be an intellectual virtue, it is worth researching whether SM are actively promoting epistemic vices in their users. Hence the main research question of this presentation: to what extent is SM leading to virtuous or vicious epistemic environments through their design features? The focus of this presentation is restricted to online debates: how do users reason and argue for their point of view on SM? What features of SM foster critical engagement in debates? Are there specific epistemic virtues or vices which are fostered by SM? And, furthermore, are there specific epistemic virtues that need to be promoted online? Starting from the concept of cognitive affordances as developed by Andy Clark, we will argue that in the case of SM we should look into the concept of negative scaffoldings which are features of the environment inhibiting the normal functioning of cognitive human functions. This concept of negative scaffoldings will then be related to the epistemic virtue theory. While classical virtue ethics places the responsibility of the virtue on the agent herself, in this presentation we want to shift the perspective from the agent-centred view to a complementary perspective, by emphasising also the role that the community plays in fostering an agent’s acquiring of virtues and, furthermore, for the case of online social media, we will also argue that the medium through which a community exercises its influence on the epistemic virtuous agent also matters to a large extent. Our angle of research is not meant to exonerate the individual users from their responsibilities, but to disclose the previously neglected role that media play in debates.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventEthics of Socially Disruptive Technologies conference: 4TU.Ethics bi-annual conference - Eindhoven University, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Duration: 7 Nov 20198 Nov 2019


ConferenceEthics of Socially Disruptive Technologies conference
Internet address


  • misinformation
  • Social Media
  • epistemic norms
  • social network sites


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