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‘Pretending to favour the public’: how Facebook’s declared democratising ideals are reversed by its practices

Abstract

This paper reconsiders the claim made by mainstream internet platforms that they inherently foster a democratic public sphere, offering reasons why the opposite may be true. It surveys past studies that have supported both views, showing how the position taken by scholars tends to depend on their disciplinary perspectives. Historically, scholarly approaches to the public or political impacts of the internet and social media have been characterised by four main interpretative lenses: technodeterminism, behaviourism, and the prioritising of either ideology, or the economics of media ownership. This article pays particular attention to the last two, and to Facebook, which among mainstream internet platforms has notably associated itself with democratic ideals. The article describes how many of the democratic ideals associated with Facebook’s impacts on society are in fact reversed by the platform’s practices, with effects that directly contradict the platform’s stated principles. The article ends by suggesting that Facebook consciously pretends to favour the public sphere, and that such Orwellian doublethink is a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from its augmentation of private and personal issues at the expense of collective engagement and empowerment. designed differently, Facebook could have had favourable impacts.

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Correspondence to Orysia Hrudka.

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Hrudka, O. ‘Pretending to favour the public’: how Facebook’s declared democratising ideals are reversed by its practices. AI & Soc (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-020-01106-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-020-01106-8

Keywords

  • Publics
  • Public sphere
  • Social media
  • Internet platforms
  • Platform design
  • Digital age
  • Facebook
  • Ideology
  • Democracy
  • Slogans
  • Collective
  • Individualism
  • Self
  • Žižek
  • Adorno
  • Orwellian
  • Doublethink
  • Newspeak