The public sphere is the domain of our social life. According to sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, access to the public sphere is open to all citizens. The concept of a political public sphere discusses objects that are connected to the practice of the state. With a large public today, communication and influence will require newspaper, television and radio as these are forms of public sphere currently.
Elements of the public sphere have come from the bourgeoisie social structure through the middle ages. The representation of the public sphere represents the nation or specific clients, rather than the public. Feudal powers like the church represents public adheres through polarization. By the end of the eighteenth century, there were private elements on one side, and public on the other.
The ‘public sphere’ refers to the functions and control of a state authority, and the sphere is mediating between the state and society. If this is the case, could social media be a public platform for a public sphere? (Habermas, 2009)
PUBLIC SPACE OR PUBLIC SPHERE?
As the internet offers a platform for active engagement with politics for people from all ages, it does suggest twitter is a public sphere. Individuals are able to state opinions and interests regarding current affairs, despite the 140 character limit in each tweet.
According to Andrea Lunsford from Stanford University, the number of people using digital writing has increased. (Sluis, 2009) Therefore it could be said that twitter and other forms of social media like Facebook are the new form of a public sphere. The Habermas’s theory states the public sphere is also used for political liberation movements like the Iranian revolt last summer on twitter which had both a positive and negative effects. (Obar, 2015) The Iranian revolution began in 1978 with a popular democracy movement and ended with the establishment of the first Islamic state. The revolution turned the Iranian society upside down in the 20th century. During the revolution, Iran was ruled by Shah Reza Pahlavi, and as a result power was distributed only between friends and family meaning that the difference between the rich and the poor continued to become larger. (BBC news) The Iranian post-election protests took place last year where protestors were using twitter to share information. Information included constant stream of situation as well as links to pictures and videos. Radio Free Europe described this as a powerful medium as there was rapid communication. (Keller, 2010) Thus this displays how twitter is a public sphere as protestors were able to engage with the public in terms of current affairs and represent their nation.
Interestingly, Jodi Dean argued the public sphere and computer mediated interaction are two completely different concepts and it is possibly a damaging practice of democracy. Social networking sites are informative modes of development and is referred to as a communicative capitalism. The public sphere is a liberal practice, and thus it appears that there is a distinction between private and public sphere. (Dean, 2003)
HAS THE PUBLIC SPHERE BEEN ERODED BY MEDIA?
Although social media is an excellent and easy way to express political opinions freely, the rise of media may have eroded the idea of a public sphere as a whole. For example in 2016, the referendum took place regarding whether we should stay in the EU or leave which brought up a range of propaganda and fake news to sway the views of the public. Political campaigns are largely dependent on the media to get the information across to the people and hence the media have a huge responsibility. An example of propaganda during the referendum period includes Nigel Farage’s anti migrant poster which is said to be similar to the 1930’s fascist poster by George Osborne. (Wright, 2016) This meant that all posters, leaflets and information given out to the public from the parties did consist of an element of bias.
Conclusively, although some may argue twitter is not a public sphere, alternative arguments suggest that to an extent it can be as sharing information through social media has proved to be a powerful method to get messages across.
BBC news, In pictures: The Iranian revolution, [online]. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/04/middle_east_the_iranian_revolution/html/1.stm> [accessed on Thursday 27th April 2017].
Dean, J. (2003) “Why the Net is not a Public Sphere”, What is the Public Sphere? What kind of political architecture does it involve?, Volume 10, page number 95.
Habermas. (2009) “The public sphere” in Habermas, J. (3rd Eds.) Media studies: A reader, place of publication: Edinburgh University Press
Keller, J, (2010) Evaluating Iran’s Twitter Revolution, [online] place of publication: The Atlantic. Available: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/evaluating-irans-twitter-revolution/58337/> [accessed on Thursday 27th April 2017].
Obar, J.A. and Williams, (2015) Social media definition and the government challenge: An introduction to the special issue, [online]. Available: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2647377> [accessed on 23rd February 2017].
Sluis, E, (2009) Twitter: Public space or public sphere?, [online]. Available: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/blog/2009/10/06/twitter-public-space-or-public-sphere/> [accessed on 23rd February 2017].
Wright, O, (2016), EU referendum: Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster like 1930s fascist poster says George Osborne, [online]. Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-poster-nigel-farage-polls-michael-gove-a7089946.html> [accessed on 23rd February 2016].