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Online order in the age of many publics

Matthias C. Kettemann (Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut, Hamburg, Germany)
Anna Sophia Tiedeke (Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut, Hamburg, Germany)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 11 December 2020

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




In online digital spaces, the public/private distinction is challenged in many different ways. The purpose of this paper is to show that the normative order of the internet is a suitable lens through which the complex relationship of private and public norms and their impact on communication spheres and today’s and tomorrow’s dynamic public can be understood.


Habermas’ conception of the public sphere provides us with the ideal starting point for our normative analysis of German court cases concerning the application of public law in privately-owned online communication spaces. The normative analysis allows us to pose an important theoretical question regarding the necessity and circumstances of a codification of a (private) online order.


This research paper shows that a reconsideration of the Kantian theory enables the transcendental constitution of normativity – and of new publics, is necessary because normativity that learns from its environment can no longer be described by referring to traditional categories of, and criteria for, subjectivity. The research paper shows that the normative order of the internet is based on and produces a liquefied system characterized by self-learning normativity.


This paper offers a unique perspective on the norm building process in privately-owned online communication spaces and poses an important theoretical question that helps to better understand the emerging normative orders, the shift in our view on “publics” and offers a useful analytical tool for a better explain, predict and legitimize the creation of new order-internal norms.



Kettemann, M.C. and Tiedeke, A.S. (2021), "Online order in the age of many publics", Kybernetes, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp. 1004-1014.



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