Talkbacks in the age of Facebook: Public Sphere 2.0?
In Israel, a country with a high rate of news consumption, these TalkBacks cause a political, social and cultural discourse of an extremist minority to be over represented. On Feb. 16th, several Palestinian pupils were killed in the West Bank when their bus hit a lorry, few weeks before this incident a rabbi was shot dead, also in the West Bank. Following the majority of comments and TalkBacks left on news sites preceding those events and other related events concerning Palestinians or Israeli settlers, reveal a very disturbing phenomenon. The violent and raciest comments left by extremists on facebook are an example on how this form of communication is pushing this type of discourse into the public sphere. What people used to say under the cover of anonymity, they now write publicly on their facebook wall.
Unlike the academic world, politicians, advertisers, speakers and other professionals recognize the importance and the effect of these TalkBacks on public discourse. Majority of them employ this platform to spread their messages and ideology or to promote products by paying for TalkBacks. The same goes to political parties and extremist minorities who utilize this platform to promote hate. The concept “public sphere” has been dependant both on the period and the society it is used in. Today, another variable has entered the equation, technology.
The possibility to place comments and TalkBacks on news articles or any other political issue has allowed extremists and most fundamental opinions to enter the public sphere under the cloak of anonymity, these voices that once were marginalized became part of the daily discourse. This development places a certain pseudo power in their hands. The first to be influenced by these TalkBacks were politicians who considered them to be a form of “public opinion”. It is a sort of a none representative sample of thoughts and opinions, but for any politician it is a chance to bring their political views and announcements to the TalkBack level of discourse. The once reletive anonymous discourse of TalkBacks on news websites has now moved to the walls of facebook. Talking place under articles shared on user’s walls. This move is a fundemental one. We can see that the racism and violence transformed from anonymity to the public sphere. The question is will this new found publicity bring the discourse to a new equilibrium point?