Living Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Cyber-Development, Cyber-Democracy, and Cyber-Defense

pp 1-28

Date: Latest Version

What Happened to the Public Sphere? The Networked Public Sphere and Public Opinion Formation

  • Jonas KaiserAffiliated withDepartment for Political and Social Sciences, Zeppelin UniversityBerkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University Email author 
  • , Birte FähnrichAffiliated withZeppelin University
  • , Markus RhombergAffiliated withDepartment for Political and Social Sciences, Zeppelin University
  • , Peter FilzmaierAffiliated withPlatform Political Communication, Danube University Krems


The concepts of democracy, public sphere, and public opinion are as closely intertwined as contested. Since the dawn of the Internet, scholars have argued about its opportunities, challenges, and risks for society. Recent developments appear fundamental in that they have touched upon the core of Western democracies – the making of a public sphere and the forming of public opinion. The spread of digital media and changing modes of communication thus have made it necessary to reconsider classical conceptions of public sphere and public opinion. Against this background, we will posit that the emergence of the networked public sphere forces us to rethink the concepts of public sphere and public opinion in a less normative, more open, and interactive way that both is permeable to the offline world as well as to transnational demands and influences.


Public sphere Public opinion Internet Network Democracy Social media Agenda setting Climate of opinion Mass media Digital divide Online communication Fragmentation Anonymity Participation Opinion leader Spiral of silence