Connectist: Istanbul University Journal of Communication Sciences
New Media and the Public Sphere: Perspectives of Communication AcademicsOnur Dursun, Filiz Yıldız
Nowadays, new media as a public sphere is at the center of an individuals’ communication and has become a highly disputed territory. Contrary to Habermas’ public sphere, which is egalitarian, inclusive, non-hierarchical, and open-centered, new social media is a medium that is technologybased, virtual, anonymous, nonpublic, and considerably steered by political and economic powers. However, despite its deficiencies and precarious issues related to limits and procedures, new media enables its users to react to, share opinions on, and offer solutions on social subjects. Currently, it is debated whether it is a public sphere or not. Studies that question the eligibility of new media as a public sphere emphasize its potential even if they believe that it does not have the ideal public sphere criteria yet. Through Habermas’ public sphere and its related concepts, along with the views of communication academicians, this study attempts to explain the public sphere features of new media and its inclination toward communicative actions. By employing the judgment sampling technique, 18 academicians from 15 different universities are selected. The selected academicians have all conducted research on new media and Habermas. After the interview, the academicians’ responses to the questions are grouped under four titles: “Conceptualization of new/social media as a public sphere,” “inclination toward communication,” “technical, political, and commercial obstacles in accessing public sphere,” and “the essence and quality of knowledge in new publicity.” This study concludes that although new media has significant potential as a public sphere, it does not allow interactive communication in its current form; its commercial and technical structure affects publicity negatively; the pressures of control and surveillance cause concerns in the public sphere; and the information processes have a quality problem.
Yeni Medya ve Kamusal Alan: İletişim Akademisyenlerinin PerspektifiOnur Dursun, Filiz Yıldız
Günümüzde bireylerin iletişim eylemlerinin merkezinde yer alan yeni/sosyal medyanın kamusal alan olduğu tartışmalı bir konudur. Habermas’ın kamusal alan düşüncesi eşitlikçi, kapsayıcı, hiyerarşik olmayan ve aleniyet temelli yapısına karşın yeni/sosyal medya, teknoloji dolayımlı, sanal, anonim, aleniyetten uzak ve daha önemlisi siyasi ve iktisadi güçlerin yön verdiği bir mecradır. Yeni medyayı veya yeni medyanın kamusal alan potansiyelini sorgulayan çalışmalar, yeni medyanın ideal kamusal alan ölçütlerine ulaşamamış olsa da bir potansiyel barındırdığını vurgulamaktadır. Bu çalışmada yeni medyanın kamusal alan niteliği Habermas’ın kamusal alan ve ilişkili kavramlarıyla açıklanmaya ve iletişim akademisyenlerinin görüşleriyle birleştirilmeye çalışılmıştır. Bu bağlamda Türkiye’nin farklı üniversitelerinden, büyük ölçüde yeni medyayı ve Habermas’ı bilimsel çalışma alanı olarak belirlemiş iletişim akademisyenlerinin görüşlerine başvurulmuştur. Yargısal örnekleme tekniğiyle 15 farklı üniversiteden 18 iletişim akademisyeniyle görüşülmüştür. Görüşmelerin tamamlanmasının ardından; ‘kamusal alan olarak yeni medyayı kavramsallaştırma’, ‘yeni medyanın iletişimsel eyleme yatkınlığı’, ‘kamusal alana erişimde politik, ticari ve teknik engeller’, ‘yeni kamusallıkta bilginin niteli(ksiz)liği’ olmak üzere 4 analiz başlığı altında, konu ele alınmıştır. Araştırmada, yeni medyanın kamusal alan olarak önemli bir potansiyele sahip olmakla birlikte, mevcut haliyle, etkileşimsel bir iletişime izin vermediği, ticari ve teknik yapısının kamusallığı olumsuz etkilediği, denetim ve gözetim baskılarının kamusal alanda kaygılar yarattığı ve bilginin nitelik olarak sorun barındırdığı sonuçlarına ulaşılmıştır.
This study attempts to identify new media’s public sphere characteristics via the opinions of academicians studying communications. The study examines the history and approaches of the public sphere and then discusses the public sphere potential of the internet. The concept of the public sphere has been contemplated since the ancient days, even though it was not named such. Hannah Arendt was the first philosopher who envisioned the public sphere. Jürgen Habermas, influenced by her, profoundly scrutinized this concept and published his ideas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and The Theory of Communicative Action (2001). Habermas pursued historical and denominational states of molding public opinion and the public reasoning process of the clustering subjects who live individually in society and examined communication structures satisfying public sphere model. Seyla Benhabib, another prominent name studying the public sphere in light of Arendt and Habermas, contributed deeply to the subject by classifying public sphere approaches, establishing challenges, and shedding light on the mechanism of deliberative democracy.
Several works of research that have used Habermas’ public sphere to question the internet indicate that although new media has the potential, it encompasses too many complications to be a political public sphere at present. These works of research highlight that the internet has the potential to forge and support the public sphere, but it does not assure it. These works highlight that the internet offers global, non-hierarchical, complicated, and demanding interactions. On the other hand, there also are pieces of research that state that the internet is the most impeccable medium for the prospect of global access, freedom of speech, liberal communication, limitless agenda, attending public sphere beyond traditional political theories, and molding public opinion via discussion process. However, all these discourses emphasize that it may not completely satisfy the public sphere requirements.
Through Habermas’ public sphere and its related concepts and the views of communication academicians, this study attempts to explain the potential of new media/internet becoming a public sphere. Habermas’ public sphere approach is referred to here because it apprehends the public sphere as an abstract/imaginary and discursive/ communicational/deliberative political space. A healthy public sphere requires egalitarian, non-hierarchical, inclusive, liberal, honest/sincere, and qualified participation, and new media/internet has the potential to fulfill the mentioned requirements, even if not entirely.
For this study, 18 academicians from 15 different universities, mostly studying Habermas’ public sphere and new media, are chosen by using the judgment sampling method. Through semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted face-to-face or via phone, open-ended questions were asked to the participants. After the interviews, the topics are grouped under four titles: “Conceptualization of new/social media as a public sphere,” “inclination toward communication,” “technical, political, and commercial obstacles in accessing public sphere,” and “the essence and quality of knowledge in new publicity.”
The participants opined that new media has the potential for becoming a public sphere and handling communicative actions, but it cannot realize this potential yet. They think new media has deficiencies because it is not open to everyone due to technical and economic reasons. The medium is under the supervision of political and commercial authorities, the flow of information is unusually fast, it may contain disinformation and misinformation, and the knowledge verification process is long and complicated.
The participants iterate that new media has not reached the level idealized by Habermas’ public sphere because of the aforementioned challenges. They emphasize that the medium hardly enables ideal communicative/deliberative actions and that its participation and inclusiveness are inequitable, dishonest, and illiberal. To solve the problems, the participants propose the use of inclusive, egalitarian, local, and global technologies and information policies. Finally, they advise that new media should be unbound from the hegemony of governmental authorities and/or capitalist organizations.