The Filter in Our (?) Heads: Digital Media and PolarisationClimate change, Brexit, Trump, COVID, Ukraine: there is hardly a major topic in contemporary public debate online that does not attract heated discussion, entrenched partisanship, widespread misinformation, and conspiracy theorists. Rational, evidence-based contributions often fail to cut through, while affective polarisation is prevalent, and difficult to overcome.The facile, simplistic view of these developments is that digital and social media have disrupted the traditional public sphere, enveloped us all in ideologically homogenous ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’, and thereby ushered in the post-truth age – but such technologically determinist explanations have been rightly debunked for failing to account for the full complexity of the present moment in public communication. Hyperpartisans and conspiracy theorists, for instance, are abundantly aware of what their opponents think and say, but instinctively, reflexively reject those views: if there is a filter, it is located in their (and equally perhaps in our) heads, not their information feeds. Similarly, if global digital media platforms were predominantly to blame for the decline of societal cohesion and consensus, why are countries like the US considerably more deeply affected while other democracies remain considerably more resilient?While these deep divisions are often misdiagnosed as evidence of ‘echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’, then, they actually point to pernicious dysfunction at a discursive level: they are evidence of deeply entrenched polarisation and hyperpartisanship. Yet digital media studies have yet to develop a full repertoire of conceptual and methodological approaches for the analysis and assessment of such phenomena. Such approaches need to be able to distinguish between benign forms of ideological agonism and partisanship and destructive, entrenched polarisation; and they need to recognise diverse ideological, issue-based, interpretive, and affective qualities in polarised discourse. This evidence is critical to enabling an urgently needed, robust defence of our society and democracy against the challenges of polarisation.This seminar will be chaired by Dr Katharina Esau.About the speakerAxel Bruns is an ARC Laureate Fellow (2021-2026) and Professor at the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT.
Deliberative Democracy for Diabolical TimesDemocracy’s seemingly inexorable advance in the 1990s and 2000s induced many observers to forget that most states and empires throughout history have been inhospitable to democracy. What’s new about our bad times for democracy is that they implicate novel forms of public and political communication in a diabolical soundscape. Minimal standards of truth and integrity are routinely violated by successful elected leaders. Print, radio, and television operations can prosper by enraging niche audiences, moving them to extremes and acting as enablers of demagogues. It is easier than ever before for large numbers of people to express themselves politically, especially on social media, controlled by massive corporations with limited interest in the pathological aspects of the political space that they have inadvertently created. Authoritarian governments manipulate and exploit this space to foster division, sow chaos, bolster extremist candidates, and destabilise liberal democratic states. An overload of political expression makes it increasingly hard for citizens and policymakers alike to detect meaningful signals amidst the lies, noise, and disinformation.As a communication-centric approach, deliberative democracy ought to have plenty to say in response. Given the chance, citizens and publics can indeed avoid manipulation and polarization, reach well-reasoned positions, and join public discourse in deliberative systems that also involve the media, leaders, and activists. Here, a capacity to rethink democracy can begin (though not end) with the deliberative dispositions and practices that all societies already possess to some degree. The dispositions might include the openness that many people already have toward deliberative ideals such as listening carefully to the other side. The practices might include informal networks of political conversations; bridging rhetoric; constructive framing; integrative performances by political leaders; dialogical connections between citizens and politicians; deliberation in social movements and protests; and traditions of holding leaders to account. Innovations might then include crowdsourced judgments and citizen participation to inform algorithms, reflective deliberative spaces online and offline (including mini-publics), and listening practices in social movements. One way of thinking about all this is that it pits the entire contemporary program of deliberative democracy against diabolical developments. Alternatively, specific aspects of the soundscape can be targeted with more precise deliberative responses.This seminar will be chaired by Dr Adele Webb.About the speakerJohn Dryzek was an ARC Laureate Fellow (2014-2020) and Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra.
Future-Proofing the Public Sphere: Axel Bruns in conversation with John DryzekThe world’s most eminent scholars on digital media and deliberative democracy will offer their reflections on each other’s seminars and propose common lines of enquiry between digital media studies and deliberative democracy scholarship.This conversation will be moderated by Prof Selen Ercan.Axel Bruns | 2nd May, The Filter in Our (?) Heads: Digital Media and Polarisation. https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-filter-in-our-heads-digital-media-and-polarisation-tickets-522375879317John Dryzek | 9th May, Deliberative Democracy for Diabolical Times. https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/deliberative-democracy-for-diabolical-times-tickets-522419439607About the speakersAxel Bruns is an ARC Laureate Fellow (2021-2026) and Professor at the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT.John Dryzek was an ARC Laureate Fellow (2014-2020) and Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra.