Communication Technologies that Create the Public Sphere


CommunicationTechnologies that Create the Public Sphere

CommunicationTechnologies that Create the Public Sphere

Thecontroversial issue of the public sphere and its relevance in thecontemporary society has become increasingly challenging andproblematic since the emergence of the digital age. This is becausethe new information technology, which has influenced all aspects ofhuman life, has subjected the structure as well as the operations ofthe public sphere to dramatic changes. Computer mediated means ofcommunication have replaced coffeehouse and salon discourse (Holub,1991). This implies that the information technology have eased theprocess of flow of information and expanded the platform for thepublic to discuss freely and identify the key problems affecting thesociety. Fuchs (2014, p. 57) argues that information technology havecreated a public sphere that is well networked, which have in turnallowed the formally passive readers and listeners to take part inthe public debates. Although information technology has resulted inthe establishment of a better networked public sphere, there are somefactors that have limited the impact of the information technology onthe contemporary public sphere. This paper will address the strengthsand weaknesses of the statement we cannot comprehend the structureand operation of the public sphere until we understand thecommunications technologies that help to create it.

Theoreticalconcept of the public sphere

Habermastheory of the public sphere is based on the notion that anything thatis public should be made open to all members of the public (Fuchs,2014, p. 60). This means that the primary role of the public sphereis to ensure that the society has acquired the capacity to take partin critical debates on issues affecting its affairs. Theaccomplishment of this goal requires the establishment of a media forcommunication and information, which should be accessed by themajority if not all citizens. This notion supports the use of moderninformation technology to establish a more networked public spherethis free from economic and political forces. Habermas alsoemphasized on the importance of interconnection by stating thatsocial coordination in the public sphere is conducted byinterdependent and interconnected subjects (Susen, 2011. P. 43). Itis evident that the use of the information technology in vital publicdebates has played the role of enhancing the interconnections in thesociety.

Strengthsof the statement

Thekey roles in the communication technology in the public sphere

Thetheoretical concept shows that the effectiveness of the public spheredepends on the capacity of the members of the public to connect witheach other. The emergence of the information and the digital agepaved is characterized by the introduction of new means ofcommunication. This has bridged the geographical distance, thusallowing members of the public to participate in significantdiscussion regardless of their geographical locations. Fulya (2012,p. 492) asserts that the emergence of the virtual sphere has createdan opportunity for citizens to express their opinions on mattersaffecting the society by posting comments in online discussiongroups. This suggests that the use of information technology tofacilitate public discussions has reduced the need for people to meetface-to-face or travel to designated places in order to participatein the discussions.

Thenetworked public public sphere, which is mainly facilitated by theinternet, has created a platform for all people to participate in thepublic discussions irrespective of their race, age, social classes,or gender. This means that the key parameter for members of thepublic to engage in public debates is the accessibility of theinternet. This is because the electronic field of communication andthe media in general dictates that the public sphere should beconceptualized as an outcome or a product of common usage of themedia, typically at shared-language or national level (McGannon,2009, p. 4). This suggests that the sphere can now extend as far asthe media reaches. Therefore, any person within the network can takepart in the discussion without any form of discriminationdiscrimination. It is evident that the communication technology isthe foundation of the contemporary public sphere.

Functionof Facebook as a public sphere

Facebookis an effective tool that has and will continue increasing politicalparticipation by providing viable solutions to the challenges thatthe modern democracy is encountering. Supporters of the use ofcyberspace in facilitating public discourse assert the social media,including the Facebook, will pave the way for democratic utopia byincreasing the public participation in the national and internalpolitics (Papacharissi, 2004, p. 260). This is because Facebook isone of the leading participatory websites that can be seen in apositive light to be the key tools for the revival of the publicsphere. Facebook permits the networks of the local individuals totake part in the network of the entire globe. This type of networkthat is supported by Facebook cuts across all races, social classes,gender, and religion, which means that Facebook dissolves alldiscriminatory boundaries. This increases the public participation inthe public discourses because people who were previously eliminatedfrom public debates on the grounds of their age, gender, or othersocial characteristics can now air their views.

Facebookis an important and a cheap source of information about politicalissues, which increases the chances for constructive discussion sincethe participants air their opinions from informed points of view. Themajority of the young people uses the social media sites (such asFacebook) to learn relevant information about elections. For example,the Facebook posts on the U.S. election increased from 2002 to 2004,which means that many people have confidence in the Facebook as asource of up-to-date information and a reliable platform to conductthe public dialogueXenos, 2007, p. 443).In addition, Facebook pages provide reliable links from which theusers can access empirical studies on particular topics and increasetheir understanding of the topic of discussion. The process oflocating and sharing information on Facebook reduces the cost ofconducting and participating in public dialogues, thus improving theparticipation of individuals who are politically active. Theparticipatory platform provided by Facebook is consistent Bohman(2004, p. 133) ideathat a public sphere that seeks to promote democratic action shouldcreate a forum or a social space in which the users can raise theirviews to others who in turn can respond to those views. In essence,Facebook is one of the key forms of information technology that havepromoted civic engagement in public debates.

Weaknessesof the statement

Althoughinformation technology holds the promise of revitalizing the publicsphere, there are some technological aspects that are likely tocurtail this potential. This holds back the notion that the structureand the operation of the public sphere can only be understood in acomprehensive way by comprehending communication technologies. Thereare two major factors that limit the significance of moderncommunication technology in the public sphere as considered in thissection.

Theeffect of the digital divide

Informationinequalities that are associated with the digital divide compromisesor interferes with the representativeness of the public sphere thatis based on modern communication technologies. Information inequalitycan be mainly caused by three two major factors. First, lack ofinternet connectivity limits the access to information and theplatform created by technology for members of the public toparticipate in debates (Braddy,2010, p. 4). Thelimited access to the cyberspace is associated with the large numberof people who cannot access computers or the internet connectivity.The second barrier is the high level of illiteracy associated withthe new media. This implies that there are many people who can accessthe internet and computers, but they do not have the skills tooperate them. This limits their capacity to take part in debatestaking place in the virtual public sphere. In most cases,technological illiteracy and lack of connectivity affect the poormembers of the society, which means that the communicationtechnologies can result in some sorts of discrimination on the basesof social class. This is contrary to the Habermas concept of thepublic sphere that promoted universality.

Therelationship between information inequality and the public sphere isbased on the fact that information inequality alters the dynamics andthe structure of the public sphere. According to Buschman (2003, p.41). Communication is the most significant element that facilitates atrue and effective public sphere. This is because members of thepublic construct conceptual norms through communication. This impliesthat lack of access to communication technologies excludes a sectionof the society from established norms, which in turn eliminates themfrom critical thinking and debates that affect their lives. Thisimplies that relying on communication technology to comprehend theoperation and the structure of the public sphere may not reveal thetrue nature of the sphere.

Commodificationof the modern public sphere

Electroniccommunications have pre-emptied the public debates by turning thecontent of the media into commercial products. In this case theconsumer society is perceived to the accepted model for politicaldecision making and individual behavior(Boerder, 2005, p. 1). Thisconcept of consumerism has threatened the idea of the public sphere.Under the concept of consumerism, the society, which is the mosteffective vehicle for the production of short-term wealth,facilitates economic growth by supporting the notion that buying isthe way to be. This means that the increase in the power ofcommunication technology has the capacity to distort beliefs andperceptions held by the society. Consequently, modern democracy,which is propagated through the modern technology, is viewed as ameans of offering consumers of the public with a range of choicesinstead of acting as the representative of the will of the members ofthe public.


Althoughcommunication technology plays an important role in the establishmentof the public sphere, there are some factors that limit theuniversality of the sphere. Habermas theory of the public spheredefines a true sphere as the one in which all members of the publicare capable of making their contributions to the ongoing publicdebates. Communication technology provides a social space that allowsthe public to share ideas, thus fostering the public dialogue.Facebook is one of the key communication technologies that provideusers with an opportunity to interact socially, post their views, andreceive responses from other members of the public. This means thatthe social media (including the Facebook) are one of the tools thatdemonstrate the operation and the structure of the public sphere. Thesize of the sphere is only limited by the internet connectivity,which means that the sphere can extend as far as the network extends.Despite the fact that the communication technology gives a betterexplanation of the functionality and the structure of the publicsphere, the digital divide and commercialization of the media contentlimits the capacity of the information technology to bolster theconcept of university of the public sphere. This suggests that thecomprehensive understanding of the operation and the structure of thepublic sphere may not be fully understood by simply analyzing thesignificance of the communication technology.

Thescope of the present study was limited to the roles played by thecommunication technology (such as the Facebook) in the public sphere.The paper also focused on the digital divide and comodification ofthe media content as the major factors that reduce the chances forcommunication technology to be viewed as the major tool that canexplain the functionality and the structure of the public sphere.Future studies should focus on the impact of data storage as well asdata retrieval capabilities on political discussions. Future studiesshould also consider other types of communication technology (such asweb pages and YouTube) apart from Facebook.

Listof references

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Bohman,J., 2004. ‘ExpandingDialogue: The Internet, the Public Sphere and Prospects forTransnational Democracy’ in Nick Crossley and John Michael Roberts(eds).&nbspAfter Habermas: New Perspectives on the Public Sphere.Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Braddy,N., 2010. Thepublic sphere and the digital divide: Bridging the gap withE-Government.Columbia, MO: University of Missouri.

Buschman,J., 2003. Dismantlingthe Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Ageof the New Public Philosophy.Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Fuchs,C., 2014. Social media and the public sphere, Triple,12 (1), pp. 57-101.

Fulya,A., 2012. Thesocial media as a public sphere: The rise of social opposition.Elazig: Firat Universitesi.

Holub,R., 1991. JürgenHabermas: Critic in the Public Sphere,London: Routledge.

McGannon,D., 2009. Publicspheres, networked publications, networked public sphere?Bronx, NY: Fordham University.

Papacharissi,Z., 2004. Democracy online: Civility, politeness, and the democraticpotential of online political discussion, NewMedia &amp Society,6 (2), pp. 259-283. DOI: 10.1177/1461444804041444

Susen,S., 2011. Critical notes on Hagerman’s theory of the public sphere,SociologicalAnalysis,5 (1), pp. 37-62.

Xenos,M. and Bennett, W., 2007. The disconnection in online politics: Theyouth political web sphere and U.S. election sites, 2002-2004,Information,Communication, &amp Society,10 (4), pp. 443-464. DOI:10.1080/13691180701559897