From Networked Publics to Issue Publics: Reconsidering the Public/Private Distinction in Web Science
Proceedings of the 5th Annual ACM Web Science Conference, WebSci '13, Pages 24-32, Paris 2-4 May 2013
9 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2013
Date Written: 2013
As an increasing part of everyday life becomes connected with the web in many areas of the globe, the question of how the web mediates political processes becomes still more urgent. Several scholars have started to address this question by thinking about the web in terms of a public space. In this paper, we aim to make a twofold contribution towards the development of the concept of publics in web science. First, we propose that although the notion of publics raises a variety of issues, two major concerns continue to be user privacy and democratic citizenship on the web. Well-known arguments hold that the complex connectivity of the web puts user privacy at risk and enables the enclosure of public debate in virtual echo chambers. Our first argument is that these concerns are united by a set of assumptions coming from liberal political philosophy that are rarely made explicit. As a second contribution, this paper points towards an alternative way to think about publics by proposing a pragmatist reorientation of the public/private distinction in web science, away from seeing two spheres that needs to be kept separate, towards seeing the public and the private as something that is continuously connected. The theoretical argument is illustrated by reference to a recently published case study of Facebook groups, and future research agendas for the study of web-mediated publics are proposed.
Keywords: networked publics, issue publics, public/private, social media, democracy, Facebook, Dewey
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