Would Plato tweet? The ancient Greek guide to social media
But if you take the point of view that almost everyone is wrong and most influencers should be wary of, how do we get to what’s right? And if, on the other hand, its content is sincerely engaged with? In the pursuit and expression of objective truth, one must further ask, how do we get it? And is there such a truth?
Such questions permeated Plato’s cultural scene. The sophist Protagoras would have espoused a theory of “relativism”, which essentially suggested that since our individual perceptions differ, we are each limited to our own subjective construction of reality.
We can see how this thesis is illustrated by aspects of the social media experience, as we scroll through an apparent endless amount of information, but still within the confines of our private information bubbles.
Plato sought to refute Protagorian relativism and find a criterion for objective truth. When he wrote his “Republic” he envisioned an ideal society, ordered under the leadership of the only type of person who is able to glean this pristine truth from the jumble of public opinion – the philosopher.
To combat the problem of distinguishing desirable from undesirable information – the good from the bad influencers – Plato introduced an infamous degree of censorship in his theoretical city. Jenny Jenkins of Swansea University speculated that he would have allowed citizens to use Facebook, assuming that would have been an emphatic “no”. “Facebook doesn’t intend to promote morality, and doesn’t particularly seek to educate its users,” she writes, “so I think Plato would have disapproved of it for that reason alone.”
Rather, Plato proposed that education and entertainment, and speech in general, should be strictly regulated, with virtually all independent arts suppressed. If it does not promote the welfare of the community in accordance with rational principles, prohibit it. On its ideal platform, the only fully licensed content creator is the state, and that content is “the form of good,” as the ideas of philosophy infer.