Ph.D. project: Will democracy survive social media?

The TU/e is looking for candidates for a Philosophy & Ethics Ph.D. project. This Ph.D. position will be part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies research programme, a new 10 year long international programme of seven academic institutions in the Netherlands that started in January 2020.

Starting date: 1st September 2020 (or soon after)


Social media has become an essential space of public and semi-public discourse, and has the potential for a second wave of digital democracy by increasing access to information and greatly lowering the barrier of participation in public debates. The last few years, however, have also shown some of the risks that are present in social media. Fake news, disinformation, manipulation and disguised propaganda in social media have contributed to a post-truth era in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. A recent challenge is posed by so called deep-fake technology that allows to create authentic looking videos that seem to depict real events, and that are indistinguishable from real videos for the average user. This poses a threat to democracy.

In this project we will investigate the complex picture of the influence of social media upon democratic politics, and whether the claim that democratic practices is linked to truth telling, rationality, consensus and reason is still tenable due to social media. The objective of this project is to develop a normative and empirical model of democracy theory that takes into account the potential of social media to facilitate more participative democracy while acknowledge its disruptive value of challenging traditional political practices and institutions.

Research Programme ‘Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies’

This Ph.D. position will be part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies research programme, a new 10 year long international programme of seven academic institutions in the Netherlands that started in January 2020. This programme has a combined budget of € 27 million, and is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the Gravitation funding scheme for excellent research, and by matching funds from the participating institutions. The duration is from January 2020 to December 2029.

The programme has the aim of achieving breakthrough research at the intersection of ethics, philosophy, technology / engineering and social sciences, and to position its consortium at the top of its field internationally. A key objective is to investigate how new technologies challenge moral values and ontological concepts (like ‘nature’, ‘human being’ and ‘community’), and how these challenges necessitate a revision of these concepts.  The programme includes four research lines, ‘Nature, life and human intervention’, ‘The future of a free and fair society’, ‘The human condition’ and ‘Synthesis: Ethics of Technology, Practical Philosophy, and Modern Technology-Driven Societies’. The Ph.D. project we advertise will be part of the research line ‘The future of a free and fair society’

Ph.D. students are encouraged to spend a semester abroad, and a budget is available to cover travel expenses. Please note that there are other vacancies in the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies programme at different participating universities. In case several are of interest to you, we want to encourage you to apply to them as well.


Your Profile

You hold a Master’s degree or equivalent degree in Philosophy or Ethics. Other Master’s degrees will also be considered if you have a demonstrable interest in analytical/conceptual problems, as well as in normative questions. You have an interest in the themes of the research: political philosophy, ethics, ethics of technology, democracy, and social media. You have good Dutch and English skills.

The TU/e is an equal opportunity employer. We welcome candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. As we aim to increase the diversity in our Section and in the field of philosophy, we especially encourage candidates from underrepresented groups to apply.


We offer you a four-year Ph.D. position, starting September 1st (or soon thereafter) 2020. The gross salary is €2325 per month in the first year to €2972 per month in the last year. Additionally, Eindhoven University of Technology provides excellent facilities for professional and personal development, a holiday allowance (amounting to 8% of the annual salary), an end-of-year bonus (amounting to 8.3%), and a number of additional benefits.



Your application should contain the following documents:

  • a letter of application which explains your interest in the position and your qualifications for it;
  • a curriculum vitae;
  • a writing sample (Master thesis or equivalent)
  • a one-page motivation statement, elaborating on your ideas for a research focus in line with the project
  • names and contact information of two persons willing to provide references.

If you are interested, we invite you to apply before June 21st 2020.  Interviews will be held shortly thereafter. To apply please use the ‘apply now’ button on this website page. Make sure to apply no later than 20th Jun 2020 23:59 (Europe/Amsterdam).

Please note that a maximum of 1 document can be uploaded, so if you have more than 1 document you will have to combine them. Please do not send us applications by e-mail.

Further information
For further information on the Ph.D. project, please contact Lambèr Royakkers (email: l.m.m.royakkers[at], phone: +31 40 2474693)

More information about the Programme ‘Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies’ can be found at

More information about the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences can be found at

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