Can Social Media Be Seen as a New Public Sphere in the Context of Hannah Arendt's Public Sphere Theory?

Londra, Birleşik Krallık: IJOPEC Publication Limited (2020)
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With the 21st century, we are witnessing the mass spread of the communication technologies and social media revolution. Interactive networks built on a global scale have led to the formation of a virtual world of reality that is connecting the whole world. With the global spread of communication networks, the question of whether social media points to a new public sphere has been raised. Social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are nowadays seen as a place where political campaigns are carried out, causing the destruction of authoritarian regimes, organizing global protests and innovation culture, and discussing political, social and cultural changes. What gives social media a similar quality to the agora of Ancient Greek city-states is the characteristic of been a place where citizens come together and talk about issues that are considered to be public, eventhough in a virtual reality. This work, following the Arendtian sense, discusses whether social media really is a place where public issues are discussed, common ideas are produced and transparency prevails. In her work "The Human Condition", Arendt makes a fundamental distinction between private and public sphere based on human activities. By conceiving the activities that she describes as labour and work in relation to the private sphere, Arendt tackles the activity of action through linking it to public sphere. Arendt defines the public sphere as a sphere of freedom and a political sphere. The public sphere consists of equal people without hierarchy, who come together with their completely free will. According to Arendt, the condition for the public sphere to be possible is transparency and commonality. Firstly; it has a wide transparency in the sense that something have to be seen and heard by others, and the second is that it points to a common world that belongs to everyone, except for the part that is privately owned. Considering the public sphere in relation to the transparency not a direct transfer of things that happen in the private or intimate sphere. It is precisely related to the fact that something pertaining to the private exhibits a presence within the world of public and the fact that the private acquires a public chatacter. This does not mean that the public sphere is a sphere in which the private and intimate are directly transferred. According to Arendt, leading a private life as a whole will lead to the lack of what is necessary to be a true person. It also leads to the lack of a common world that unites and separates them. Arendt thinks that with the modern period, what belongs to the purely private and intimate sphere expands and causes the collapse of the public. The collapse of the public sphere in the modern period; It has caused both the loss of difference and interaction and the emergence of individuals who are increasingly alike, unable to think and act. In this kind of society, action has left its place to behavior, difference to standartization and thought to obedience. Arendt sees the public sphere as a sphere where public affairs are discussed, while the private sphere is a sphere where intimate and private activities take place. Arendt argues that with modern society the distinction between public and private has became indistinct , and as a third sphere, the social sphere has swallowed up both the public and the private. The social sphere has removed the distinction between the public transparency and commonality of the public and the privacy of the private sphere and activities. This study considers social media as a sphere where public issues are discussed. It also dıscusses the private sphere events and the most intimate issues. It claims that social media is not a new public sphere as it is cosidered, but it is a social sphere in which the distinction between private and public in the Arendtian sense is become indistinct. In this context, the study seeks to answer the following questions: How does the distinction between public and private spheres, which is central in Arendt's thought, look like in today’s world? Is it possible to talk about a public sphere in the modern age? Can social media be considered as a public sphere? Or is social media a sphere of freedom and a political sphere? Does social media allow discussions on public issues? Is social media a non-hierarchical nature open to the free participation of everyone, difference and plurality?

Author Profiles

Aykut Aykutalp
Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (PhD)


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