The Public Square Project: Reimagining Our Digital Future

A new book from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, published by MUP and released today, The Public Square Project: Reimagining Our Digital Future explores a new blueprint for a more democratic digital space, and re-examines the idea of a public space where people gather to share ideas, mediate difference and make sense of the world.

When Facebook blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news in 2021, it sounded the alarm worldwide on our growing reliance on global tech companies to fulfil this critical role in a digital world. Facebook’s hostile act, constituting a very real threat to participatory democracy, was a direct response to government attempts to regulate Big Tech’s advertising monopoly and to mediate its impact on public interest journalism.

The conflict sparked a new sense of urgency around the growing movement to imagine alternative digital spaces that operate in the public interest rather than simply for a commercial bottom line.

Can we create sustainable media models to help us tackle society’s problems? Can we engender a civic platform built on facts and civility? Can we control the power of our data and use it to promote the common good?

The Public Square Project draws together leading tech scholars, industry experts, writers and activists to chart a path towards a public square worthy of the name.

Edited by Peter Lewis and Jordan Guiao, contributors include former Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow; author, activist and entrepreneur, Eli Pariser; Swinburne University academic, Dr Belinda Barnet; Guardian Australia managing director, Dan Stinton, and more.

“As a society, we need to move beyond digital platform reform and start actively building the kind of digital technology with values that we care about,” said Jordan Guiao, co-editor of The Public Square Project, and research fellow at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“Big Tech’s vision for our society is increasingly called to question, and we need new ideas for our digital future,” Mr Guiao said.

“This is a discussion we have to have. Whether it is disinformation or trolls or the global trade in personal information, we have got the model wrong and we have got to start again,” said Peter Lewis, co-editor of The Public Square Project, and director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“The current way we are managing our connections over the corporate digital platforms are fundamentally broken. They’re broken because of a business model which has been described as ‘surveillance capitalism.’ There is an auction for our attention every time we go online, and an incentive to keep us engaged online for as long as possible, producing as much information back to the platform as possible. We are no longer a user of these networks, where actually the product.”