In Lanier’s fourth essay, he invites us to consider how social media is undermining our understanding of what is accurate, evidence-based, and factual. This essay, also, aligns well with our semester-long engagement with argumentation and rhetoric. When we hear the word “rhetoric,” it is often used pejoratively to signify communication that is insincere, meaningless, or deceptive: “That’s just a bunch of rhetoric.”
But, rhetoric is any sort of persuasion or argumentation. Rhetoric can be the means by which we come to understand Truth, with a capital T. This concern for Truth leads us back to Lanier’s essay and his concern for the dangerous consequences of social media undermining our understanding of Truth.
1. Read “Social Media is Undermining Truth” in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts.
The essay “Social Media is Undermining Truth” from our common read, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, emphasizes Lanier’s concern for Truth (with a capital T). While Lanier’s essay focuses on a modern dilemma regarding social media, philosophers and rhetoricians have been concerned for centuries with how we understand Truth and how it influences our behaviors.
In the first century AD, Roman educator and rhetorician, Quintilian, argued that we should strive in our communications to be the “good man (or woman) speaking well.” For Quintilian, persuasion toward Truth relied on the speaker’s character as well as the words and intent.
Quintilian invites us, then, to consider Lanier’s essay through the lens of ethical decision making. We might consider these questions when considering the ethical implications of what we read on social media (borrowed from “A Framework for Ethical Decision Making (Links to an external site.)”):
o Is this speaker doing the most good and the least harm? (The Utilitarian Approach)
o Does this speaker present information that best respects the rights of all who have a stake? (The Rights Approach)
o Does this speaker treat people equally or proportionately? (The Justice Approach)
o Does this speaker best serve the community as a whole, not just some members? (The Common Good Approach)
o Does this speaker invite me to act as the sort of person I want to be? (The Virtue Approach)