Tiffany Li & Belabbes Benkredda in Quartz:
This week Jürgen Habermas, one of the world’s most famous living philosophers, turned 90. A week before, Congress hosted yet another hearing investigating tech platforms Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple.
What does one event have to do with the other?
In 2006, long before social media echo chambers were a worldwide phenomenon, Habermas warned that “the rise of millions of fragmented chat rooms across the world” would lead to “a huge number of isolated issue publics”—micro public spheres that threaten the shared national conversations that are essential to democracy.
Habermas’s philosophies and the antitrust investigations both point to a fundamental issue we face today: the concept of a public sphere, and what tech companies and the government can and should do to protect democracy.
Facebook, like Twitter and Google, represents the modern version of the public sphere that Habermas and other democracy theorists have called for. With more of our lives lived online, we’ve stopped prioritizing physical spaces, and therefore lost shared spaces spaces for public discourse.
The internet has largely satisfied a human desire for connection, but it doesn’t necessarily cultivate a democratic exchange of information.