Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Terms of Use

© 2023 Leslie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is freely available courtesy of the author. It may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Sociology & Anthropology Department

First Advisor

Michael L. Mullan


This thesis explores the ways in which discourse occurring in online discussion forums can become toxic and fail as spaces that create public opinion within the contemporary public sphere. After a literature review of Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere and other scholars who connect the bourgeois sphere to our current iteration of the public sphere on the internet, an ideal type of a contemporary public sphere is constructed. Using this ideal type, the ways in which multiple online discussion spaces fall short of realizing the potential of the public sphere and the culture of discussion that has been cultivated within them are analyzed. Afterwards, an analysis of select subreddits from are studied as alternative examples of spaces that more closely adhere to the ideal type, focusing on the moderation of these subreddits and the promotion of civility and good-faith engagement as cultural pillars to be practiced. Finally, this thesis considers whether the ideal type of the public sphere can be realized within contemporary society as Habermas originally described.