The public sphere, a metaphorical concept developed by Jürgen Habermas, explains where and how people come together to “freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action”. The public sphere was once thought to exist in 18th century coffee houses, a very bourgeois, male dominated setting. However, in today’s contemporary context, the public sphere can be found in a variety of places – from social media platforms to bars to cafes, and is inclusive of everyone.
Looking at the internet as an example of a current public sphere, it holds an extensive range of platforms where groups and individuals can come together and freely discuss societal problems, and influence political action. Such discussions held via social media platforms can be quite simple and humours, whereas others can be influential, political, and helpful.
#thedress was a viral phenomenon that spread worldwide in 2015, where people were left perplexed and angry about the colour of a dress.
Although simple, and upon first glance quite meaningless, people became obsessive over the image. It generated mass social discussion between all aspects of society including celebrities and companies. This example shows how active the public sphere is online and how quickly social debates can spread and influence others.
Another more recent example of social discussion in the public sphere is the viral video, ‘Hurt Bae’. The emotional video made by ‘The Scene’ generated widespread social discussion about relationships.
Compared to #thedress this video exposed the more serious topic of honesty in relationships. People were overwhelmed with emotion and expressed they opinions in video responses (which are both emotional and funny).
The recent presidential election in the United States used the online public sphere intensely. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively, used and manipulated aspects of social media to generate debate, and influence serious political action. Trump was especially present online, using his twitter account to reach his 27 million followers, and let them know that he can ‘make America great again’.
Personalised Communication is a research based website discussing current issues and is written by academics. They have an array of snippet-like articles which reveal current stats, info, and updates on all sorts of things – and there’s a fair bit on the inclusion of social media during the recent presidential election. One that particularly stands out is the comparison they made of “number of social media followers, website performance, and Google search statistics” of Clinton and Trump.
Although Trump is widely disliked, he did win the election, and his widespread online presence generated worldwide positive and (mostly) negative discussions. The election displays how the saturated presence of campaigning, personal postings, and sharing information online contributes to the discussion of politics in every day life; and thus influence political action – in this case, voting.
So there ya go, the public sphere is everywhere and especially nowadays with a growing, worldwide, virtual community, social media is becoming one of the most active platforms for social discussion, debate, and influence.