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Res Publica : A Journal of Legal and Social Philosophy


Revelations of personal matters often have negative consequences for social-media users. These consequences trigger frequent warnings, practical rather than moral in nature, that social-media users should consider carefully what they reveal about themselves since their revelations might cause them various difficulties in the future. I set aside such practical considerations and argue that social-media users have a moral obligation to maintain their own privacy that is rooted in the duty to self-censor. Although Anita L. Allen provides a paternalist justification of the duty that supports my position that social-media users are obligated to self-censor what they reveal about themselves, I justify the obligation through considerations that are more palatable to liberals than is paternalism. I accomplish this by arguing that the failure to self-censor often creates for others undue burdens that individuals are obligated morally not to create. In particular, social-media revelations often create undue burdens for those, such as employers and university personnel, who are obligated morally to respect individuals’ privacy in their decision-making processes. I also demonstrate that this argument is not for a broad duty to self-censor, but, rather, for a narrow duty that applies to particular circumstances such as certain uses of social media.