Algorithms, Corporations, and Self-Respect

Modern-day corporations have a profound and pervasive impact on people’s opportunities, freedoms, and the way that they view themselves. This paper argues that social media corporations have created platforms that function as an important site for people to affirm their self-respect. Our self-respect affects how we perceive ourselves and the worthiness of our moral and political views; it also demands certain forms of treatment from others. In my view, the posts we see and the design of the platform may shape how we view ourselves and our life-plans, which is an important example of the influence corporations have on society.
In political philosophy, the state and its basic institutions are typically thought to be required to provide the social and political institutions for our self-respect to flourish. By contrast, individuals and corporations are thought to be obliged to support just institutions while not being directly obliged to promote justice-relevant values like self-respect. However, I argue that in virtue of creating a site that greatly affects our self-respect, corporations also incur obligations to promote the self-respect of their users. This obligation consists in designing or re-designing their platforms in ways consistent with our self-respect. I draw on some recent work in computer science – the idea of ‘bridging systems’ – to suggest a kind of algorithmic design that may help corporations discharge the obligation they owe to our self-respect.