SMAC’S World

Danielle Newman

The public sphere is an active network for communicating information and points of view (1). Today’s technologies have made the public sphere easily accessible to media consumers through the use of social networks over the World Wide Web. Within a social network, the user holds the power to actively aggregate information that they would like to share with other users to whom they are connected. Free speech is encouraged in this web space and often, the only user who can delete what he or she has shared, is the user him or herself, or an external party who has deemed the content inappropriate. Social networking sites do not often constitute what is true and right, but rather what the user(s) have decided to share, allowing for every user to have an equally democratic voice. Though this democratic freedom is currently somewhat contained, it has the ability to make opinion and truth difficult to distinguish between.

[In response to Howard Rheingold’s idea of net neutrality and equal access for users to edit wiki-pages]

“Express your point of view in such a way that your opponent won’t find anything to fault in it. If before communication was defined as the sharing of meaning, now social media provides a space where meaning can be assembled without being shared, and provides the mechanisms to enforce this kind of neutrality (6).”

The number one reason for a user to join a social network is because their friends have also joined (2). Further research shows that once a user has joined a social network it is extremely unlikely that they will expire their account. While users remain active on a networking site they may open a second, third, fourth…etc, account on additional networking sites, contributing with each post to the overwhelming influx of data available online. The explosion of networking has changed the way that we both receive and distribute information (7), unintentionally affecting society’s classification of an actively democratic citizen. In the past the definition was clear-cut, a democratic citizen was an activist; Someone who would give the skin off of their back to fight for their cause. However the old activist’s voice was reliant on the main stream media to be heard by a larger audience. Today, it is possible for a so-called activist to reach the public by creating low to no budget content. Take for instance, a website built on a community of users who surround themselves with news stories based not on validity or political interest, but on timeliness and human interest. Sites like Mashable connect to users on a personal level by sharing with them the exclusivity of the content, such as the number of times that it has been viewed or liked. An affective social media site will also allow user dialogue on the same page as the article and makes it easy to spread the content via other networks. As communities and blog spaces continue to expand online, arguments ensue whether digital activism should measure up to the real face to face activism that our society is familiar with.

Social Networking has the ability to affect global dialogue by exploring issues that the mainstream media may have skimmed over. For instance, while the nightly news and local newspapers report on war, terror and taxes, independent bloggers and tweeters are sharing new up to date messages on issues that may have otherwise gone unreported. At first, these messages may have only reached a niche group of followers, however there is a new potential for greater outreach and popularity growth online. New technologies such as Twitter, have made it easier than ever to become a part of a niche group. Revolutionary software such as Google Translate, have made sources from around the world instantly available to non native speakers in virtually any language. Video sharing has given all citizens of the world with access to the internet, the chance to see groundbreaking tragedy on the other side of the globe, or a cute cat video,  with their own two eyes. However, if a story receives enough attention, no matter the subject, it has the ability to be picked up by the mainstream media, encouraging the voice of the people to speak up. The expanding use of social medias has enabled the rise of Citizen Journalism, opening a gateway for users around the world to connect with users in another country, within their own country or better yet, with the press.

“The distinction between producers and consumers in a digital content environment is increasingly blurred. The digital content industry must not stop at the level of the firm but must extend to the individual (3).”

In comparison to other mediums such as television and radio, Social Media and the World Wide Web allows for users to become better connected with stories in their own geographical location and on the other side of the world (6). Interactive social networks also allow users to prioritize which “type” of issues they would like to receive information about, and to customize their preferences so that their intake suits their interests. These customizations may also be used to attract passive networker’s to content with content which suits theirs interests but that they may not have discovered otherwise.

“The fact that the mass of individuals may not coordinate their actions collectively or classify them as civic engagement does not decrease the civic significance of their actions (4).”

Aside from active engagement, passive engagement on social networks can still help to foster a community and gain recognition. For instance, not every user who watches a YouTube video leaves a comment or uploads their own videos, in fact many do not even have an account. However by watching a video on YouTube you are increasing the number of views for that video by at least 1 play, adding to its popularity. Similarly, becoming a fan of something on Facebook may not lead the user to make a donation to that specific cause, however, minimal participation becomes public to other users on the site, enabling the spread of a message or campaign. If the number one reason why people join Social Networks is because their friends are doing it, think of how many people will “fan” or “like” a topic that their friends like. By making our likes and interests public, we are welcoming content based on a system of trust. For example, if a friend shares a link on your wall, you will most likely click it because it came from a person who you have invited into your social space.

“A September 19, 2007 comScore report revealed that in July 2007, viewers watched 2.4 billion videos on YouTube. The report indicated that 75% of U.S. Internet users watched online videos that month, for a total of 9 billion video streams. Average viewers spent 181 minutes watching online videos during the month (5).”

Immediacy is a key point when considering Democracy and Social Medias. In countries where free speech is not protected it is often exercised online. Twitter , Youtube and other popular networks have allowed for citizens to ban together to get their first taste of Democracy, exposing the cruelties of government and war to outside countries. However, in an effort to dismantle the cross of political swords, more frequently than not, content will be removed shortly after it is uploaded, cited as “no longer available” or better yet, “not available in your country”. However, thanks to the free nature of the Internet, a person with a powerful message has more resources today than ever before to build a platform of beliefs online and to have their voice heard by billions of people. Today, the right story can “go viral” within seconds, accumulating popularity and high volumes of peer-to-peer views. Peer-to-peer views and the level of trust and comfort which we as a society have built around the internet, could very well be the launching pad that blurs the line between the public figure who we read about in the news, and the private figures like you and me. Perhaps, in the future, we will all be public figures and equally credible contributors on the internet. As we continue to expand our global dialogue via the World Wide Web, it is unforeseen whether we will reach a point where there are too many untold stories and not enough actively democratic citizens. Or perhaps we will continue to prosper in our own social networks, continuing to decide for ourselves which information on the internet is important.



(1)  Fleming, Ted: “Habermas, Democracy and Civil Society”, page 360.


(3)  Bruns, Axel (2005) ‘‘Anyone Can Edit’: Understanding the Producer.’ The Mojtaba Saminejad Lecture.

(4)  Putnam, Robert D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, Simon & Schuster.

(5)  Deuze, Mark (2006) ‘Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture.’ The Information Society, 22(2): 63-75.


(7)  Shirky, Clay (2008) “Here Comes Everybody”.  The Penguin Press. New York, New York 10014.


About globalsmac
Democracy and Citizenship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: