The Ethics and Politics of Online Interaction

Christ Church, University of Oxford, May 14-15, 2019

Organisers: Étienne Brown and Michael Hannon

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Tuesday May 14, 2019 - Lecture room 1

1:45 – 2:00: Opening by Étienne Brown

2:00 – 3:00: Regina Rini (York University, Canada). Title tbd.

3:15 – 4:15: Personal responsibility and the use of social media

Maria Paola Ferretti (Normative Orders, Goethe University Frankfurt)

4:30 – 5:30: Democratic Disagreement in a Digital Age

Michael Hannon (University of Nottingham)

19:00: Dinner at Quod (speakers)

Wednesday May 15, 2019 - Lecture room 1

10:00 – 11:00: Online Masquerade: Redesigning the Internet for Free Speech Through the Use of Pseudonyms

Carissa Véliz (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics/Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities)  

11:15 – 12:15 : Freedom of Thought and the Regulation of Speech on Social Media

Erin Nash (UNSW) and Robert Simpson (UCL)

12:30 – 1:30: Lunch (Dining Hall, Christ Church)

1:45 – 2:45: The ‘Will of the People’? Modelling a Fully Informed EU Referendum

Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (Birkbeck College, London)

3:00 – 4:00: Can real social networks deliver the wisdom of crowds: A case study of vaccine discourse on Twitter

Mark Alfano (Delft University of Technology)  

4:30: Informal Drinks (all welcome)


While the history of moral and political thought has largely focused on problems that arise when two or more individuals interact in a physical setting, we now spend important parts our lives online, and our digital existence raise questions to which contemporary philosophers are increasingly paying attention. Recent philosophical work has shed light on the fact that the internet represents a distinctive social environment which offers new ways of communicating and interacting, but also poses new epistemological, ethical and political problems. Political philosophers and epistemologists, for instance, worry that the epistemic environment found on social media is not conducive to the formation of true justified beliefs, and that it contributes to political polarisation in divided democracies. Others see the cyber sphere in a more positive light and stress the new possibilities that it creates for virtual citizenship, online discussion and ‘e-democracy.’ For their part, moral philosophers worry that anonymous interaction on the internet offers ill-intentioned individuals new means to abuse others, whether this is by invading their privacy through acts of digital piracy or engaging in individual and collective forms of abusive behaviour.

This workshop aims to bring together junior and senior scholars interested in discussing moral and political philosophical questions such as:

  • How does misinformation and echo chambers contribute to polarization in liberal democracies? Can their effects by counteracted by online democratic deliberation?

  • Can democratic states legitimately coerce social networking sites into modifying their online platforms to protect democratic values?

  • What kinds of speech, if any, should be prohibited on the internet? Can such prohibitions realistically be enforced?

  • Is the cybersphere governed by the same moral norms as offline interaction? Does the internet offer us new ways to wrong each other?

  • Can we make the internet a more ethical space? If so, what means are available to us?

Attendance is free. Lunch and dinner can only be provided to speakers, but all participants are welcome for informal drinks.

Funding and organizational assistance for the conference are generously provided by the Society for Applied Philosophy and the Institute of Philosophy, University of London.