It has been said that Social media platforms create a democratic spaces for dialogue. But do they really? Almost 3.5 billion people use social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook, and it is said that each person averages 7.6 different accounts. With this high volume of users on social media, it creates a new type of public sphere. In this sphere, is there a democracy? Or is there a power struggle that is not often spoken about?
Social Media has created a new kind of way to interact with people near and far from you, and the introduction of the internet into the world, was the first step needed for that. Anyone with an internet connection could then gather information, participate in discussions, create content, and so much more. As long as they had internet (and a device) they could do it. This allowed for a democratic space to arise. As Mark Warburton states in his article, the internet’s capability was more anarchic or free of hierarchy. There were no physical barriers limiting people from participating in what is going on. There were also no borders or country lines that would limit discussion and sharing of information. Social Media allows for people to connect in ways never before.
However, as time progressed, updates occurred, and people became more familiar with the internet and social media, there arose a hierarchy. Accounts were able to be “verified”, people began making money through their accounts, and political leaders joined in as well. The number of followers or subscribers a user had acted as a type of social capital. The more followers someone had, they more popular they were, and those with more people viewing there content, they are able to reach more people and often are held on a higher social platform, almost a “high class” for the social media world. Those “high class” users are able to get away with more things than the average user, and this hierarchy created an inconsistency in upholding rules along social media platforms.
With the introduction of algorithms, platforms have changed the way that engagement happens. The algorithms decide what posts come up on which order, and how users see content. There are also other things that impact the way users see content. The use of hashtags allows for posts to be linked and traced, and anyone can see it. Along with that, being in different areas around the world may impact how content is filtered, and even what content gets to different users.
For example, a few years ago, there was a Youtuber named Logan Paul who violated some rules on the platform by posting a video that was his videos were not taken down, however only because of a lot of criticism from fans, Logan then took the video down himself. He then took some time off of Youtube, but now is back to creating content and being paid for it. If that were a regular user who wasn’t being paid, that kind of content would not be tolerated and those who run the platform would have taken action. This kind of inconsistency is a frequent problem when looking into how that public space is managed.
Social media started a new type of living. People were now able to participate in discourse and communicate in an entirely new way. All they needed was an internet connection, and no physical barriers stood in their way. It created a public sphere that was equal for all. However, that did not last long. Though social media platforms began as a way for people to communicate as equals, it soon turned into a hierarchy of social power.
Now, though it is still a place to communicate, the algorithms in place have impacted the way information is distributed and viewed, and so it has become a just like the real world in terms of power relations and audiences. The different classes that have been created on platforms have created a barrier; the “high class” users have more of a voice than the “lower class” users. Along with that, the rules are upheld differently for a “high class” user than a “lower class” on. So though social media started as a way to create a democratic space, it has evolved into a social structure that is similar to the real world.
Dora, L. D., Dubras, R., & Underwood, L. (2019, January 30). Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates. Retrieved from https://wearesocial.com/blog/2019/01/digital-2019-global-internet-use-accelerates.
The average person has 7 social media accounts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.marketingtechnews.net/news/2017/nov/17/average-person-has-7-social-media-accounts/.
Warburton, M. (2011, August 3). Mark Warburton (Global) – Is the Internet a Democratic Space? Retrieved from https://www.idgconnect.com/idgconnect/opinion/1012006/mark-warburton-global-internet-democratic-space.
Gillespie, T. (2018, January 16). The Logan Paul YouTube controversy and what we should expect from internet platforms. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2018/1/12/16881046/logan-paul-youtube-controversy-internet-companies.