Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fuchs Chapters 4 and 8

Fuchs Ch. 4: Social Media and Communication Power & Fuchs Ch. 8: Twitter and Democracy: A New Public Sphere?

I believe Chapter 4 would have to be one of my favorite readings thus far, as it touched on a variety of topics and had strong critiques that I believe made logical sense, at least in terms of Castells’s theory. 

Castell argues that social media communication is mass self-communication and that its emergence has dramatically shifted the power structure of society. However, based on the Writing on the Wall, I would argue that, though social media is a form of mass self-communication, it is not its first appearance. One of my takeaways from Writing on the Wall was that there have been a number of forms of mass communication, including mass self-communication, throughout the ages, even if they have not been traditionally labeled or considered as such. I would also agree that its emergence may have shifted the power structure of society, but I do not see that shift as dramatically as Castell seems to imply. Though people have more access now, that only applies for some people, and their usage of social media does not necessarily indicate that the power structure has shifted – reference, for instance, the section on page 85 that deals with empirical research. Interpersonal communication and traditional media were far more important to the social movements than social media, so the question is begged, If social media, which has the potential to shift the structure of power, is not used for that purpose, has it really shifted society’s power structure? 

I found this question as having a direct link to the reading in Chapter 8 regarding Twitter. While it does have amazing potential, so many things do – but they are not used to fulfill that potential. Twitter, which might have become a public sphere by Fuch’s ideal, was instead overrun by entertainment tweets and is largely controlled by the content created by verified, revenue-generating accounts. However, this leads me to another question – what would be the potential of a Twitter-like website designed in a non-capitalist environment? Is the problem with Twitter that Americans (and other users of the site) are too focused on entertainment and ignoring widespread, global problems? Or is the problem, at its root, that Twitter is a business whose end goal is to make a profit? It seems like a societal issue, but we can compare Twitter to Weibo, where friends of mine have said just how much political dissent occurs, albeit in a very indirect and “concealed” manner – are Weibo users more concerned with political issues, while Americans are more able to ignore them because they do not seem to affect so much of the internet-accessing population at large? I would be curious to see some of these points more belabored.

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