Democracy presupposes a public sphere where citizens can debate their differences and reach mutually binding agreements. The emergence of the public sphere has often been linked to the surge of books and newspapers. Today, however, printed media is in crisis. The advertising revenues of publishing houses are siphoned off by Google and Facebook, while the habit of reading printed media is in steady decline. As a consequence, the journalistic profession is withering away too. It is much disputed whether this counts as a threat to free speech and public debate, or, on the contrary, is a promise to set them free. In different words, can digital media shoulder the same civic responsibilities as conventional media is said to have done in the past? Many are alarmed by a rise in uncivility in public debates, often linked to the anonymity of the computer screen. The graphic interface is said to invite trolling. A related concern is that the search engines are programmed to reinforce pre-existing search patterns. Algorithms create “filter bubbles” that undermine the possibility of developing an informed opinion. Others stress the upside. From the lukewarm promises about e-governance in the 1990s to the pie-in-the-sky visions of liquid democracy today, proposals are not lacking for how citizenship could be reinvigorated thanks to digital media. Other examples are of a more confrontational nature, such as the possibility of anonymous leaks and the surge of crypto-publics in the darknet. The ambiguity of the role of new media reflects a deeper ambiguity in the word ”people” itself. Since 1789, the p-word has interchangeably stood for, on the one hand, equality and democracy, and, on the other, for passion, violence and irrationality.
- Algorithmic intervention in shaping opinions and political agendas
- Publics and counter-publics in relation to the digital public sphere
- The tension between the public and anonymity/cryptography
- The possibilities and limits of leaking as a political strategy
- Development of digital tools for use in the public sphere
- How to develop an informed opinion inside a filter bubble
- The amateurisation of journalism – threat or promise?