Lisa M. Kruse, Dawn R. Norris, both of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Jonathan R. Flinchum of the University of North Carolina set out to see if Habermas’s public sphere was returning in order to gain knowledge to lead to political change through the use of social media. “Habermas defines the public sphere as a place where ‘private people come together as a public’ for the purpose of using which, in turn, leads to political change.”
Researchers studied a group of Generation X participants and Millennial participants in face-to-face interviews to gain information about social media, privacy and surveillance. Though it was initially designed not to include talk of politics, the researchers found this a reccurring theme in each interview. Once themes were established, coded and connected, researchers created data matrices these reoccurring themes to age groups.
The results found that social media is not a return of Habermas’s public sphere. “Our participants’ reports suggest that communicative action (as represented by civil discourse) rarely occurs on social media. Of our 29 participants, 21 (72.4 percent) reported a lack of civil discourse on social media, 7 (24.1 percent) did not bring up civil discourse at all, and only 1 (3.4 percent) reported successfully engaging in civil political discourse on social media.”
The full text of the study can be found here:
Kruse, L. M., Norris, D. R., & Flinchum, J. R. (2017). Social Media as a Public Sphere? Politics on Social Media. The Sociological Quarterly, 1-23.