“A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body.”—Jurgen Habermas
When I first read about Jurgen Habermas’ notion of the public sphere, I thought about social media and how it could offer a place for all people to connect publicly and discuss issues critically. However, I see limited evidence of this happening. While I’m sure at least one critical thought for every 2.5 million ridiculous ones does appear on social media, I wouldn’t consider Facebook or Twitter to be useful tools for challenging the status quo. Given the self-absorbed nature of most social media content, and the fact that social media is a major driver in digital profiling and segmented advertising, I would argue that it’s more subjugating than traditional media.
What’s most disturbing is the growing number of people addicted to social media channels and the devices they use to access them, which means that social media is not only manipulative but something that has become embedded into our culture. Even if we try to use social media tools to engage in civic or political discussion, we are bombarded with advertising and suggested content within the framework of each channel. As well, since these social media channels filter the content we receive (based on various criteria), they are controlling to a significant degree the content we see and don’t see. Individuals, corporations and governments can also pay money to prioritize their content, which pushes other unpaid content down below. This can impact how we view authority and the ways in which we accept or question the world around us.