What do we mean by the new public sphere?

According to our model inherited from Ancient Greece, the public sphere is a social space in which people discuss political problems, ideas, and policy proposals, and get an opportunity to influence political action.

This project brings together academic philosophers with those working in media studies and media activists and professionals, in order to investigate the opportunities and challenges that new social media pose for the ‘public sphere’.  The project team will criticise and consider the norms that could underpin a media policy framework for the internet age. 

In the large democracies of the 20th century, the public sphere was no longer associated with a physical space (an agora); instead, it was primarily constituted by debates in print media, the radio, and television. Today, as news and opinions are increasingly shared on social media and the old media wither or adapt, a new public sphere is being forged in which ‘gatekeepers’ – social media platforms and their algorithms alongside old-media editors – have altered traditional patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

People who would not have sent a letter to The Times can make their voices heard in concert with peers (as in the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo campaigns). At the same time ‘fake news’ (e.g. climate change sceptics, the anti-Obama ‘birther’ conspiracy theory) gains a wider following, and personalised online content polarises social groups.

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