from day 18/06/2021

The design of institutions & the design of the mind

What is the public sphere and how should it be organised? The question is ancient but it has been given new life and urgency by the internet and, in particular, the rise of social media, which (supposedly) provides everybody with a potential public platform unhindered by traditional, ‘elite’ gatekeepers. Yet, according to a recent paper by Kai Speikermann, Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, the opposite may be true. That is, social media in its present form might actually undermine the functions of the public sphere. “A well-working public sphere allows citizens to learn that there are genuine disagreements among citizens that are held in good faith. Social media makes it harder to gain this insight, opening the door for populist ideology” (2020, p.50, italics added). If Speikermann is right about this, it might help to explain the widespread feeling that polarisation is growing despite the supposed openness and freedom of expression provided by digital technology.

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