Audio Long Reads, from the New Statesman


The good social network: what Twitter could learn from the coffeehouse

As Twitter and Facebook stumble through Elon Musk’s takeover and Mark Zuckerberg’s insistence on the metaverse, questions abound about the future of social media. What sort of news and discussion should it host and encourage? What should be its attitude to participation, networking, user rights and free speech? What should be its business model? What societal role should it seek to play? What, ultimately, is it for?


In this essay for the New Statesman’s special Christmas issue of 2022, Jeremy Cliffe imagines the improved, restored social network of the future by drawing on the heritage of the coffeehouse, “the original social network”. It was here, as the German theorist Jürgen Habermas has argued, that the concept of the public sphere arose: a space for news and discussion dominated neither by the state nor the market. Cliffe explores the history and literature of the coffeehouse tradition to find lessons for the troubled social media platforms of today – and those who would seek to challenge them.


Written and read by Jeremy Cliffe. 

This article appears in the 07 Dec 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special. You can read text version here.

If you enjoyed this episode, listen to Are ‘Substackademics’ the new public intellectuals?

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