The last ten years have seen the ways in which communicate and socialize with each other change beyond recognition. The effects of websites like Facebook and Twitter have been felt in every area of life, from everyday activities to massive political events. This paper will consider the effects of Facebook specifically. It will do so using two specific concepts, that of the public sphere and that of the flow of information. This paper will show that Facebook has fundamentally changed the way in which we relate to these two things in our society. It will do this by focusing on the political effects that Facebook has had, especially in terms of recent political events in the world.
In his book ‘Why It’s Kicking off Everywhere’ Paul Mason tries to understand what caused the major revolts which the world saw over the last few years. He argues that there were several economic factors, such as ‘the graduate without a future’ who is the person who would previously have expected a good life and job and is now unable to have one (2012, 74). However, he also argues that the role of Facebook was all important and that the effect that it had could be described as one which has fundamentally changed the nature of society. In particular he talks about the public sphere and says; ‘Without social media there could have been revolutions in Egypt. What Facebook did was to take the idea of a democratic public and universalize it [the idea of the public sphere] to such an extent that people were able to organize mass actions at the same time that they expressed their opinions’ (2012, 80).
The idea of the public sphere dates back to the French Revolution when society changed forever in Europe. One of these changes was the invention of the idea that people had both private and public lives. Private lives concerned relationships and friends, however public lives concerned things to do with society and how it was organised and run. Traditionally institutions would provide people with access to the public sphere. These institutions could be schools, law courts and even early newspapers and media outlets. Although technology has greatly advanced, this basic structure of society has stayed relatively the same throughout history. However, what Mason argues that Facebook has done it to provide the technology for to have access to the public sphere at all times of day or night. This means that people can organise events and they can share their opinions on political matters wherever they are. The effect of this has been to make the world in which we live in one in which political debate can take place at all times and therefore one in which it is much more easy to imagine political change. The fact that the generalisation of the public sphere to potentially areas of life has a revolutionary potential can be seen by observing the revolts which have taken place over the last five years.
Connected to this, although different to it, is the concept of the flow of information. This concept describes how information is accessed and who has access to it, together with how they understand it and process it. It is obvious that Facebook has fundamentally changed the ways in which the flow of information in our world takes place. We now live in a world in which many people take their news directly from Facebook. This means that information and news may be spread very easily and that it is therefore possible envisage society as one large flow of information. Not only this, but it is also possible to argue that invention and use of this technology once again has big political consequences. One recent commentator noted that;
‘In the case of Libya and Egypt first time around, almost all major meet ups were co-ordinated via social media which had previously never before been used for such large scale purposes. This enabled large scale meetings and demonstrations to be co-ordinated and organized in next to no time and with little need for advanced planning’ (Osman, 2014 880).
The change of the flow of information in society is not only responsible for the fact that people relate to their own individual social networks differently, but can be seen as being potentially responsible for the potential for radical social change. It is important to note, however, that this flow of information works two ways and the new methods of policing employ social networks as well and make use of the change and increase of the flow of information.
In conclusion, this paper has argued that social networks, and especially Facebook have changed the world fundamentally. This change can be seen to be case when considering two concepts. The first change can be seen to be the generalisation of the public sphere into all areas of life. Whereas previously people would have been dependent on social institutions to grant them access to political information and debate, they are now able to access this at any time and at any place. A second change which goes along with this is a change in the flow of information which means that people are able to organize themselves in ways which were would never have been possible even ten years before. The fact that both these changes have real and lasting consequences for the way that politics functions as well as the way in which we approach our own lives can be seen by looking at the ways in which websites such as Facebook enable events such as the Arab Spring to take place.
- Mason Paul. Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions. Verso: London, 2012. Print.
- Osman, Wazhmah. “On Media, Social Movements, and Uprisings: Lessons from Afghanistan, Its Neighbours, and Beyond.” Signs 39.4 (2014) : 874-887. Print.