Social networking technology and the virtues

Ethics and Information Technology 12 (2):157-170 (2010)
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Abstract

This paper argues in favor of more widespread and systematic applications of a virtue-based normative framework to questions about the ethical impact of information technologies, and social networking technologies in particular. The first stage of the argument identifies several distinctive features of virtue ethics that make it uniquely suited to the domain of IT ethics, while remaining complementary to other normative approaches. I also note its potential to reconcile a number of significant methodological conflicts and debates in the existing literature, including tensions between phenomenological and constructivist perspectives. Finally, I claim that a virtue-based perspective is needed to correct for a strong utilitarian bias in the research methodologies of existing empirical studies on the social and ethical impact of IT. The second part of the paper offers an abbreviated demonstration of the merits of virtue ethics by showing how it might usefully illuminate the moral dimension of emerging social networking technologies. I focus here on the potential impact of such technologies on three virtues typically honed in communicative practices: patience, honesty and empathy.

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Shannon Vallor
University of Edinburgh