Over at Logically.ai, philosopher Dr Natalie Ashton has a great short piece about the epistemological value of social media. While I've definitely found myself preferring Twitter over Facebook — even as I contemplate burning down my Twitter account — Dr. Ashton frames the differences between these platforms in a way that makes me re-think how I've always used them both (and what the value there is in continuing to do so).
Dr. Asthon focuses on the idea epistemic friction, which comes from a book titled The Epistemology of Resistance by José Medina, which she defines as such:
While it's challenging, [epistemic friction] can also be productive. Rub your hands together and you'll feel resistance. Do it for long enough and you'll produce heat. Likewise, Medina thinks if we respond to other viewpoints in the right way we can produce understanding of the viewpoints we encounter, and of our own in comparison.
Basically: it's good to challenge your beliefs and be exposed to new things! That's how people learn and grow! But there's a huge difference in the epistemic friction created by Facebook, than the way it works on Twitter, and, in Dr. Ashton's telling, this has to do with the fundamental differences between the two social media platforms:
The defining dynamic of any social media platform is the conditions under which different users can interact. On Facebook, interactions mostly take place among mutual, symmetrical friendships. If I want to see your posts, then I send you a "friend request", and when you accept it we both see updates from one another in our feed. As a result, Facebook is typically used to connect with users you already know: family, colleagues, and IRL friends. This does nothing to elevate marginalized voices, and within particularly homogeneous groups can even reinforce the idea that mainstream opinions are the only reasonable ones.
On Twitter I only need to click the follow button for my feed to be regularly updated with another user's posts. They don't typically need to agree to this, and they won't automatically see my posts as a result. This one-sided mechanic allows users to connect with a wide range of people they'd be unlikely to encounter otherwise, and is much more conducive to elevating marginalized voices.
There's much more at the link, of course—including some thoughts on Twitter's tendency to amplify extreme views on either side, and how that factors into our epistemic relationships:
Social media already gives a voice to many of the voiceless, but it does so indiscriminately. I don't recommend we simply amplify any view which is only endorsed by a minority of people. Many of these—like racist science and flat earth conspiracies—have already been widely acknowledged and dismissed due to the fatal flaw of not being based in reality. My suggestion is to elevate voices that are unacknowledged for non-epistemic reasons, like historical (and current) oppression. Designing platforms in this way would increase opportunities for productive epistemic friction and improved understanding.
Why Twitter is (Epistemically) Better Than Facebook [Natalie Ashton / Logically AI]
Image: Public Domain via NeedPix