Could the Internet End Up Killing the Public Sphere?

25 02 2009

A few weeks ago, the French Journal Le Débat published a compelling piece by Benjamin Loveluck entitled “Internet: Toward a Radical Democracy?“. The author, who is writing a Ph.D thesis on “the hypermodern individual and the genealogy of contemporary media regimes” (sic), successfully locates the recent developments of the internet within the history of liberal-democracies. He demonstrates that although the internet is based on humanistic and democratic ideals, its functioning could also undermine some of the very basis of our societies, such as the positive role the media play in organizing the public sphere (which is entangled with any sound democracy and dependent on the free circulation of information).

First, the author shows that the internet is rooted in the philosophy of human rights. Its architecture reinforces the principle of equality, from which democracies originate, by allowing people to participate on an equal level and by suppressing “intermediary bodies” (i.e institions traditionnally in charge of educational and cultural transmission or some sort of political representation). A giant agora, the internet theoretically brings transparency, equal participation, infinite access to information and represents a unique space for deliberation, without the traditional flaws of representative democracies.


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