Aims of the project

The problems our project aims to address are that the emergent new public sphere is ineffectively governed by older laws and regulations, and that our moral understanding of new public sphere roles – ‘twitter user’, ‘platform provider’ – is under-developed. We will engage in philosophical exploration of three justificatory principles appropriate for governing and conceptualising the public sphere, principles that could underpin a future media policy framework for the UK:

  1. Epistemic value principle: the public sphere should institutionalise practices that encourage the acquisition and sharing of knowledge, that filter false beliefs, and that foster responsible engagement with evidence and facts.
  2. Liberal self-government principle: the public sphere should respect the liberty of all participants, and should enable them to participate as equals who can together constitute a ‘public’ that governs itself.
  3. Privacy principle: the public sphere should secure an appropriate space for privacy

A first overarching aim is to improve philosophical understanding of these principles, and of how they can work together to shape a well-governed new public sphere. It might seem that a right to free expression, grounded on the liberal self-government principle, must be protected even for contributions (e.g.’ climate scepticism’, ‘fake news’) that violate the epistemic value principle because they are blatantly false or fail to engage with available evidence. Similarly, it might seem that the epistemic value principle justifies silencing contributions that have not been channelled through expertise (thereby marginalising many more views than hate speech or ‘extremism’), or justifies publicising important privacy-violating truths (e.g. about politicians’ families). We examine the new forms of these familiar conflicts.

Our second overarching aim is to operationalize our philosophical understanding by developing recommendations for policy-makers, civil society and citizens in the new media age that would, if followed, deliver a legitimating media policy framework. We will explore, e.g. the benefits and costs of regulatory norms for YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, the case for public service online media platforms alongside old-style public service broadcasting, and the ideals that can define new professional or citizenship roles. Given the lack of fit between the emerging new public sphere and old media policies and concepts, it is pressing to develop a better understanding of what a well-constituted new public sphere should look like.