The Automated Public Sphere
28 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 8, 2017
The public sphere has experienced yet another structural transformation. Firms like Facebook and Google have largely automated the types of decisions made by managers at television networks, or editors at newspapers — but with much more powerful effects. Long critiqued in academic circles, the manifest inadequacy of this new media landscape is now itself a matter of public debate. The deficiencies of the automated public sphere are so manifest that consumer protection and media regulatory authorities must intervene. As they do so, they should carefully examine how emergent dynamics of communicative capitalism vitiate older societal protections. New methods of monitoring and regulation should be as technologically sophisticated and comprehensive as the automated public sphere they target.
This article first describes the documented, negative effects of online propagandists’ interventions (and platforms’ neglect) in both electoral politics and the broader public sphere (Part I). It then proposes several legal and educational tactics to mitigate platforms’ power, or to encourage or require them to exercise it responsibly (Part II). The penultimate section (Part III) offers a concession to those suspicious of governmental intervention in the public sphere: some regimes are already too authoritarian or unreliable to be trusted with extensive powers of regulation over media (whether old or new media), or intermediaries. However, the inadvisability of extensive media regulation in disordered societies only makes this agenda more urgent in well-ordered societies, lest predictable pathologies of the automated public sphere degrade their processes of democratic will formation.
Keywords: Digital Public Sphere, Megaplatforms, Consumer Protection, Media Regulation, Facebook, Google, Black Box Society, Information Privacy, Propaganda, Fake Content Generators, Algorithmic Accountability
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