Protecting the Public Sphere in Times of Social Media

A stable democracy presupposes a well-functioning public sphere, which in turn is strongly linked to the provision of information by pluralistic mass media such as television, radio and press. Only in a polity in which information is freely accessible to the public can the latter make informed decisions and exercise democratic control. Media institutions perform a public role by putting information into context and providing a place for societal debates, thereby influencing the public discourse. Social media has transformed the way we communicate by changing communication from a ‘one-to-many’ structure to a ‘many-to-many’ structure in which essentially every citizen becomes able to distribute information to a wider audience on the internet. This paper discusses how social media impacts the public sphere and proposes regulatory solutions to ensure a pluralistic information landscape as a means of protecting democracy, with a particular focus on EU initiatives in this sense.