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Reciprocal irritations: Social media, mass media and the public sphere



Elgaronline: –––– In modern society, ‘the public’ is inevitably a mediated sphere as only media can bridge its spatial, temporal and topical diversity. While this media has traditionally been mass media (one-to-many), the arrival of the Internet has popularized meso media (many-to-many). In that context, the mediated public sphere has undergone significant changes. On the one hand, media theorists emphasize the enabling characteristics of digital media, hoping for an egalitarian public sphere and an empowerment of media users. On the other hand, critics discuss the regulatory attributes of social media platforms, which allow the preformatting and sanctioning of communication more efficiently than ever before. This article discusses the generic relationship between social media and mass media from a systems-theoretical point of view. Further, it addresses the question of whether the social web is in fact on the path to democratizing the public sphere.
8. Reciprocal irritations: social media,
mass media and the public sphere
Jan-Felix Schrape
Since the 1990s, the web has been hailed as a possible means to achiev-
ing more liberal and transparent public structures, the empowerment of
formerly passive media users and the undoing of traditional mass media
providers. Dan Gillmor, for example, proclaimed that “Grassroots jour-
nalists are dismantling Big Media’s monopoly on the news, transforming
it from a lecture to a conversation” (Gillmor 2006), while Yochai Benkler
maintained that “the network allows all citizens to change their relation-
ship to the public sphere. They no longer need be consumers and passive
spectators. They can become creators and primary subjects” (Benkler
2006: 272, see also Benkler 2013).
Such positions are generally based on the premise that political and
economic power asymmetries are being dissolved by technology. In other
words, as “prosumers”, individuals are expected to override the boundaries
of the production and consumption sphere, overcome the social roles asso-
ciated with these spheres and serve as a counterweight to the centralization
of production in many sectors of the economy (Ritzer & Jurgenson 2010;
see critically Dickel & Schrape 2016). In that vein, online technologies are
often referred to as “organising agents” (Bennett & Segerberg 2012: 752),
which are seen to build “protocols of communication between different
communication processes” (Castells 2013: 125), thereby promoting a more
democratic public sphere by means of technology (Carpentier et al. 2013).
However, to date these hopes and expectations have hardly been met.
Worse, when measured against the radical extremes of these claims, they
were even significantly disappointed. For one, empirical studies show that
the number of Internet users seeking to participate in the web from a
political or otherwise deeper angle is small; that social networking services
are used primarily for entertainment and distraction purposes; that only
few user-generated offers are able to maintain a wider audience over a
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longer period of time; and that the content of established media brands
plays a key role in the social web as well (Smith 2013; Newman et al. 2016).
Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that the more recent trend
to classify contemporary protests (e.g. Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street,
Movimiento 15-M) as “social media rebellions” resulted from an overes-
timation of the relevance of online communication compared with tradi-
tional channels of distribution and modes of coordination (Fuchs 2015:
354). Finally, the basic infrastructures of the web are shaped to a much
lesser degree than expected by the users than by a small number of multi-
national technology corporations that supply the central communication
platforms and services of the Internet. These corporations have the finan-
cial means necessary to continually invest in research and development, to
regularly provide new products to Internet users and thus to significantly
influence their online experience (Haucap & Heimeshoff 2014).
At the same time, however, user-generated content from the social web is
increasingly finding its way into mass media coverage. For example, social
networking services such as Twitter and Facebook are regularly screened
and evaluated for new topics and interesting statements by professional
journalists. As well, an increasing number of semi-professional news
platforms have emerged that aim to complement or enhance mass media
reporting and hence offer expanded research options (e.g. Paulussen &
Harder 2014; Neuberger et al. 2014). In addition, the last years have seen
several waves of emotionally charged outrage on the social web that were
shown to have had an influence on political or business decisions (Bruns &
Highfield 2015; Pfeffer et al. 2014). Finally, social media on the web have
become central tools of collective action in social movements and commu-
nities of interest – the whole without any disintermediation of genuinely
social structuring processes (Dolata & Schrape 2016).
In this respect, neither established distributions of social roles nor the
Habermasian levels of the public sphere1 are simply overridden by the
social appropriation of the Internet. Nevertheless, the more efficient com-
munication structures do give rise to new forms of reciprocal relationships
between these levels. These relationships can only be adequately identified,
or named, on the basis of a sharp differentiation of the distinct areas of
influence of the various types of dissemination media.
The notion of “public” strikes as particularly ambiguous not only from the
perspective of sociological systems theory; often it is laden with normative
values and suggests a uniformity that is unattainable in reality. From that
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140 Society, regulation and governance
angle, “the public” always remains a fiction to some degree (Schmidt 2001).
To overcome this predicament, the following classification model proposes
to distinguish not according to levels of the public sphere but according
to levels of social reality construction, in order to effectively delimit the
impact areas of social media and mass media from each other. The model
is guided by insights of operational constructivism (Luhmann 2002),
which assumes, similar to the newer cognitive science, that the knower
and knowledge are inextricably linked: “Luhmanns theory of operative
constructivism radicalizes hermeneutics by spelling out that observation
always involves an observer, and as such it is always biased. An observation
(operation) is already an interpretation” (Rasmussen 2004: 177).
In contrast to radical constructivism, this perspective does not deny the
existence of an ontological reality. However, it does hold that that reality
cannot be objectively grasped without there being the bias of an observer.
In this way, it serves as an observational horizon for a wide range of very
different individual interpretations. This is why socially crystallized sym-
bolic structures and communicative references, such as a shared time and
numerical system or a common language, are necessary to ensure com-
patibility between these manifold views of reality. In addition, Luhmann
(2012) identifies functional systems of society (e.g. economic system, legal
system), which, via symbolically generalized communication media (e.g.
money, law) and binary distinction codes (e.g. payment/non-payment,
legal/illegal), reduce complexity in specific contexts. However, aligning
general communication along one of these specialized systems of meaning
would contradict the functional differentiation of modern society.
Non-specific and comprehensively used reality patterns or symbol struc-
tures condense on the one hand through their steady reproduction and
long-term condensation in communication processes (Tomasello 1999;
Berger & Luckmann 1966), although this occurs in a way that is much too
distributed and gradual to allow producing a description of the present
that is commonly acknowledged across society in a continuous manner.
Therefore, on the other hand, a number of broadly received selection and
synthetization sites have emerged in modern society that define, for the
short term, what is to be considered as relevant for society as a whole. In
fact, it is this function that is fulfilled by the mass media, understood not
as a conglomeration of organizations (e.g. publishers) and technical chan-
nels (e.g. radio, TV, Internet) but as a functional system of meaning that
observes its environment according to the unspecific distinction between
“information/non-information” (Luhmann 2000: 24), or (expected) cross-
societal relevance/irrelevance. In this way, the mass media are today
accomplishing a description task that had been in pre-modern societies
“regulated by (competition-free) representation” (Luhmann 2013: 319).
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Reciprocal irritations: social media, mass media and the public sphere 141
Together, the selection processes taking place in the various arenas of
the mass media (e.g. news and reporting, entertainment, advertising) gen-
erate a depiction of the present that is dramatically reduced in its complex-
ity – yet which cannot be reciprocated by the recipient at the same scale
of dissemination. Thus, mass media can be rightly accused of excluding
a wide range of topics from societal discourse. Admittedly, this does not
change the fact that selection processes remain indispensable, since only a
few topics can be disseminated across all of society at a given time. Still,
this does not mean that a public that could be uniformly addressed exists
or that it would be impossible for a recipient to distance him or herself
from the depictions of reality proposed by mass media. Newspapers have
always, from their beginnings, catered to targeted social milieus, and the
same applies to electronic mass media, at the latest since their diversifi-
cation (Stöber 2004). Nevertheless, commonly known “condensates of
meaning” are continuously emerging (Luhmann 2000: 37). These, be they
classified as worthy of consent or of rejection, in both cases serve as a
guiding reference in communication.
The perception of the mass media as a functional system inevitably
raises the suspicion of a static theoretical approach in which bottom-up
changes seem hardly conceivable. However, Luhmann’s (2012: 18) notion
of “meaning” as a “product of the operations that use meaning and
not. . .a quality of the world” by all means reflects the possibility of a
transformation. Similarly, just as psychic systems (“individuals”) cannot
do without the internalization of the references of social systems to meet
their needs, the meaning structures of social systems maintain themselves
exclusively through reproduction in communication. However, since the
references of a social system are always interpreted situationally, these back
references oscillate consistently around the respective benchmarks and this
blurriness allows for their gradual change. Luhmann (2012: 23) therefore
considers systems of meaning to have a “dynamic stability”, which, in the
case of the mass media, would apply to the focus of their reporting as well.
Accordingly, the social construction of reality can be, similarly to
the evolutionary concept of “hierarchical levels” (Gould 2002, 2007),
conceptualized as a circular multi-level process that is characterized by
numerous complexity-reducing selection stages between the various levels.
Variationscondense on less differentiated and less elaborated levels of
communication, until they are occasionally recognized at a higher selec-
tion level as relevant deviations or alterations (selection). In this way, they
change the state of the observing system of meaning (restabilization),
whereby changes of states at higher, more abstract levels of social reality
construction can in turn have repercussions on all lower levels of commu-
nication (Figure 8.1).
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142 Society, regulation and governance
From the perspective of such a multi-level model, different media types
facilitate the communication and social reality construction in distinct
ways (Bardoel 1996). Micro media, such as the telephone, emails or chats,
accelerate individual communication; meso media such as blogs, podcasts
or micro-blogging services allow for exchanges in objectively, spatially
or socially defined spheres of meaning (e.g. issue publics, communities
of interest); and mass media define, amidst the on-going competition of
various providers, what is to be considered as relevant in the so-called
“general public” by selecting and enhancing, from the mass of circulating
content, those offers that are characterized by a high degree of (anticipated)
connectivity in cross-societal communication (Figure 8.2). However, in view
of the fundamental scarcity of cognitive resources, the main function of the
mass media is not to deliver a comprehensive and detailed representation of
current developments but to allow for “social forgetting” (Esposito 2008).
In that sense, the relationship between social media and mass media is
less about competition and more about a complementary coexistence. Just
as the radio did not render the newspaper obsolete, nor television the radio,
the Internet poses no inherent threat to all previous media structures. This
is because, regardless of the decoupling of the content from specific data
storage and dissemination media, be it e.g. paper, optical discs, film rolls or
radio waves, the mass media and social media operate at different levels of
social reality construction:
Figure 8.1 Levels of social reality construction
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Reciprocal irritations: social media, mass media and the public sphere 143
Social media on the web facilitate the exchange, and thereby the
genesis and diffusion, of content and statements at the meso-level
of communication, whereby the scope of simultaneously circulat-
ing topics is much higher here than it is in the commonly known
description of the present in a modern society. Insofar as the evolu-
tion of social systems can be paraphrased as a “theory of waiting for
usable chances” (Luhmann 2012: 253), the pool of visible variations
from which systems of higher selection levels can choose in this way
expands significantly.
Mass media, however, provide non-specific reference bases in com-
munication in that they observe the distributed communication pro-
cesses at mid-level and in that they introduce relevant discontinuities
into the general discourse. Since mass media, as a social system, are
no longer bound to any specific format since the convergence of
technical channels, new content providers (such as The Huffington
Post) are occasionally well positioned to compete with incumbents.
However, in that case they gradually lose their interactive nature and
likewise transform into asymmetrical distribution sites.
From the outlined perspective, an erosion of the fundamental selection
patterns and role differentiations in the social description of the present
(and a loss of significance for the mass media in this context) thus appears
unlikely,2 in particular since basal socio-structural barriers can be identi-
fied that are in conflict with radical reconfigurations. For one, the classic
problem of what or who manages to capture the audience’s attention exists
on the web just the same. For example, a blog post will not receive the same
attention, as a rule, as an article of an established news portal. Secondly,
Figure 8.2 Types of dissemination media
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144 Society, regulation and governance
even the most knowledgeable “information seekers” (Wilson 2000) would
be overwhelmed if they had to identify all presently relevant or memorable
changes in the “world society” by themselves: mass media nowadays are
“the source . . . of most of our data concerning the society and the world –
it would be insufficient to confine oneself to the notions acquired directly,
through perception or through personal knowledge” (Esposito 2008: 188).
Finally, laypersons who are active on the web are usually unable to deliver
the same quality of work as professionals can on a continual basis, not
least because their cognitive resources are limited by demands from other
areas of life (e.g. work, family).
Nevertheless, through the social appropriation of online technologies
over the past 25 years, a large number of incremental changes and gradual
shifts have been triggered, including foremost (1) the development of algo-
rithmically mediated “personal publics”, (2) the facilitated emergence of
secondary performance roles in functional contexts and (3) the concomi-
tant intensification of interactions and exchanges between the meso and
macro levels of social communication.
(1) Hybrid forms between private and public communication are not
an exclusive phenomenon of the Internet. However, the algorithmi-
cally mediated semi-private communication spheres emerging on
social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter bear a
new quality of that hybridity. These “personal publics” (Schmidt
2014) are characterized not only by the long-term transferability,
scalability and searchability of their content but also by automated
factual, temporal and social structuring services. They are oriented
to the platform identity of the respective user, including his or her
established contacts and interests, as signalled by means of clicks.
These algorithmic filter structures facilitate the identity and informa-
tion management for each user, thereby obviating numerous types of
situations in which individuals feel overwhelmed or experience cogni-
tive overload in the age of the Internet. However, at the same time,
the users of these services inevitably abdicate some of their personal
decision-making autonomy to the technological structures of the
platform and its distinct media logics (see for the multiplicity of the
political self in social media Siri 2014: 233–237).
(2) Contrary to what was anticipated by many, professional journalism
has thus far not experienced fundamental competition by laypersons
on the web. Nevertheless, the dichotomy between provider and recipi-
ent roles does dissolve at certain points since the Internet facilitates
the emergence of secondary performance roles in functional contexts
(Stichweh 2005). Active Internet users (e.g. bloggers) differ clearly
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Reciprocal irritations: social media, mass media and the public sphere 145
from passive recipients in that they selectively perform journalistic
research, curation and structuring tasks. However, they also differ
from professional journalists as holders of primary performance
roles since they do not necessarily follow established journalistic
conventions, for example with regard to the universality of topics or
periodicity. Very often, they also work without being embedded into
any type of organizational framework and are motivated primarily
by short-term incentives and personal interests. However, it is thanks
to these same characteristics that amateur journalists on the web are
at times able to draw the public attention to subjects that otherwise
would not have been covered by mass media reporting. In this way,
online technologies contribute to an inner differentiation of the field
between recipient and producer roles, but they do not fundamentally
resolve the underlying dichotomy of professional providers and
consumers. This inner differentiation, while particularly visible in the
field of journalism, is also advancing in other functional contexts (e.g.
crowdsourcing in software engineering).
(3) Taken together, these expanded connectivity and participation oppor-
tunities lead to an intensification of interactions and exchanges
between the meso and macro levels of social reality construction.
The acceleration and facilitation of communication by Internet and
digitalization not only increase the chances that new issue-focused
spheres of meaning take shape; the general user-centred dissemina-
tion of contents, statements and opinions is also gaining ground in
the social web. For professionals in primary performance roles – or to
put it differently – for the functional spheres of society, these waves
of dissemination and diffusion at the meso level of communication
are much more distinct and visible than was previously the case. This
generates numerous new possibilities for interaction; for journalism,
for example, this leads to a larger number of potential sources for
research, yet also to an increased pressure towards integration and
topicality. Moreover, the new exchange opportunities at mid-level
allow for a faster identification of irregularities or gaps in mass media
reporting and coverage.
In this respect, the “reality of the mass media” (Luhmann 2000) is not
dissolved by the online technologies, but it has become more permeable
in many ways. Nevertheless, predictions “that the networked information
economy will democratize the public sphere” (Benkler 2006: 241) have
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146 Society, regulation and governance
hardly come true, namely because the mentioned communication-facilitat-
ing effects of the services and platforms on the web are accompanied by a
number of coordinating and regulatory characteristics (Van Dijck 2013).
For one, ubiquitously used services such as Twitter, Facebook or
Snapchat contribute with their predefined and reproducible protocols
and filter paradigms, which act as technically mediated social order
patterns significantly to the structuring of the communication on the
web. The embedding of clickable “reaction buttons” on Facebook or the
140-character limit on Twitter are not just technical gimmicks but rather
social structure elements that are incorporated in the platform design.
Secondly, the infrastructures of the Internet are opening up expanded
possibilities of social control because the communication profiles of their
users can be observed, evaluated and sanctioned by private operators (or
government intelligence agencies) to a degree that is much more exact
and effective than previously possible (Dolata & Schrape 2016; Galloway
This applies in particular to the socio-technical ecosystems of mobile
devices that are increasingly used for personal online access (e.g.
smartphones, tablets, smartwatches). More explicitly even than in the
general World Wide Web, what prevails in the world of mobile media plat-
forms are the rules and regulations of private sector providers, which users
and software developers are obliged to accept by confirming the General
Terms and Conditions. With the centrally coordinated “walled gardens”
of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices, the production, distribu-
tion and use of media content and software has indeed become simpler.
However, this bundling and standardization have also served to buttress
the rule-setting and determining influential force of a few globally domi-
nant infrastructure operators.
For the providers, this infrastructural power3 is accompanied by a previ-
ously unknown control over the data that is generated continuously during
the use of web platforms, smartphones or tablets and their ecosystems. For
example, Google today is able to create user profiles (e.g. for advertising
purposes) not only by resorting to its search engine and email platform but
also by evaluating its social networking service Google+, Google Maps,
Google Drive, YouTube, its software and media store Google Play, as
well as numerous application programs that are pre-installed on Android
devices. Moreover, with the practice by Google and Apple, begun many
years ago, of expanding activities beyond their traditional areas of busi-
ness (e.g. payment services, home automatization, mobility), the mass of
integratable data continues to grow (Andrejevic 2015).
However, the reflex to reproach the dominant corporations in online
and mobile communications for their infrastructural hegemony and the
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Reciprocal irritations: social media, mass media and the public sphere 147
associated data power appears to be a step in the wrong direction. This is
because the development, provision and operation of free-of-charge usable
services and platforms is costly as well; the survival in the rapidly chang-
ing market for information technologies requires continual investments
in research and development; and last but not least, Google and Apple,
or Facebook and Twitter, are for-profit companies that must, for reasons
of self-preservation, remain true to that mandate. Thus, to maintain their
core business and to remain competitive, information technology compa-
nies must continually enhance their products and services and cater to user
preferences – and for this they are heavily dependent on mining and analys-
ing user data (Shelanski 2013; Gerlitz & Helmond 2013).
The situation that basic communication infrastructures are operated
and driven by private sector providers is, of course, not an exclusive phe-
nomenon of our time. The invention of the metal movable-type printing
press, for instance, was driven by Johannes Gutenberg and his investor
above all owing to tangible economic interests; and from the mid-fifteenth
century on, it was able to spread rapidly primarily in light of its high sales
potential along the European trade routes (Stöber 2004). However, the
novelty of digital modernity is the hegemony of a very few multinational
companies as the operators of the key infrastructures of communication,
media distribution and information retrieval on a global scale. Indeed,
such a level of power concentration was not even reached at the height of
former phases of media consolidation (Zerdick et al. 2000).
This global bundling of private sector power over infrastructures and
data, unprecedented in media history, can hardly be counteracted by
means of national government regulations – at least not without making
serious compromises or accepting locational disadvantage (see Luhmann
2012: 83ff.). From the perspective of the outlined multi-level model of
social reality construction, however, an incremental change from the
bottom up appears possible, provided an increasing proportion of users of
such services are bothered by this concentration, change their preferences
and collectively express their displeasure by initiating lively discussions on
the social web concerning this matter. Such episodes of public outrage,
some of which gain momentum on their own terms while others are trig-
gered by non-governmental organizations or journalistic coverage, can
be expected to undergo a mass media reflection upon reaching a certain
threshold of attention. As thus they may represent a serious disruption, or
discontinuity, for the targeted companies, forcing these to react – although
not necessarily in the sense of their critics. For such forms of bottom-up
public pressure the social web offers an ideal playing ground (see Mölders
in this volume; Mölders 2014).
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148 Society, regulation and governance
The media transformation initiated by online technologies by no means
leads to a disintermediation or dissolution of the socially crystallized role
differentiations and selection stages in the social construction of reality.
On the one hand, modern society requires, owing to its temporal, factual
and social diversity, a complexity-reduced description of the present that is
acknowledged by a “general public” and that ensures a basal compatibility
in communication. For this reason, it cannot do without the continuous
synthesising and disseminating services of the mass media (or functional
equivalents). On the other hand, social media effectuate the exchange in
specific communication contexts, or defined spheres of meaning, and facil-
itate user-centred distribution of contents and opinions, thereby expand-
ing the pool of visible variations of meaning to which functional systems
at a higher selection levels of social reality construction can respond (or in
some cases have to respond).
In this respect, the current transformation of media structures is
characterized less by substitution, competition and resolution than by
differentiation, complementarity and co-existence. Against this backdrop,
the potential for reciprocal irritations is enhanced, namely between com-
municative dynamics on the social web and mass media reporting; between
selectively participating laypersons and professionals; and between spe-
cific communication contexts and the so-called general public, whereby
the latter essentially remains the product of a cascade of communicative
attributions, or an empty signifier, that only gains meaning from a specific
perspective of observation.
However, despite this increased permeability between the various arenas
of communication and social reality construction, we cannot, in any way,
speak of a general democratization of media structures or the public
sphere. This is because, although the extremely advantaged positions of
some publishers and broadcasting corporations were eroded in the course
of digitalization, the Internet economy of today exhibits a consistently
higher level of concentration than former media markets. Moreover,
the need for a non-specific description of the present in cross-societal
communication, with the need for a strong reduction of complexity in the
construction of that present, does not simply vanish owing to the Internet
and digitalization. Instead, a common description of the present remains
indispensable not only as an orientation for individuals and point of ref-
erence for discourse but also for societal decision-making processes. The
belief that social change might be induced solely by means of new techno-
logical possibilities is thus still a fallacy that is founded on technological
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Reciprocal irritations: social media, mass media and the public sphere 149
1. Initially identied by Jürgen Habermas (1997: 374), these levels are dierentiated accord-
ing to the reach and density of the communication – “from the episodic publics found
in taverns, coee houses, or on the streets; through the occasional ‘arranged’ publics of
particular presentations and events, such as theatre performances, rock concerts, party
assemblies, or church congresses; up to the abstract public sphere of isolated readers,
listeners, and viewers scattered across large geographic areas, or even around the globe,
and brought together only through the mass media”.
2. Such a perspective certainly emphasizes persistences. However, in my opinion it can
prevent “proceed[ing] without overall analysis and . . . to focus on what is new (or what is
considered to be so) as substitute for the essential” (Luhmann 2013: 314) or to attribute
previously initiated dynamics (e.g. the disentangling of medial and political spaces) exclu-
sively to the web.
3. “Power” is here understood, in the sense of Elias (1978), not as a rmly established entity
but as a volatile balance that has to be constantly renegotiated (e.g. between technological
infrastructure providers and users).
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... These elements of collective identity management are solutions to the problem of recognizability, which only matters if persistence is strived for. To this effect, the efforts of the ICIJ were a clear case of an attempt to find a way into cross-situational societal reality construction (Schrape 2017a;Luhmann 2000). ...
... Thus, every observation is already an interpretation, and the world is perceived selectively and differently in divergent communicational contexts or meaning spheres. Against the backdrop of these manifold views of reality, or the polycontexturality of societal communication, only few topics can be disseminated across society at a given time (Schrape 2017a(Schrape , 2017b. ...
Full-text available +++ Our article examines new potentials for systemic irritation in the Internet age and focuses on the processes of synchronization between media, politics, and law. First, we discuss antipodal assessments of what is accelerated in the digital society: (a) the frequency and accessibility of attempts at “correcting society”, or (b) the perceived need for societal rectification. Based on empirical case studies on social protest movements, investigative journalism, and online petition platforms, we subsequently elaborate our main thesis that the technical improvement of communication structures per se does not necessarily increase the likelihood of the addressed societal systems evaluating the correction queries. Instead, the search for and the design of opportune forms of irritation remain a complex organizational process. To irritate other societal contexts effectively, civil counter forces exercise self-control particularly regarding temporality, retarding their operations according to the operational speed of the addressed meaning systems. This deliberate deceleration in operational timing is considerably facilitated by digital technologies. In the final chapter, we contextualize our empirical findings within a broader evolutionary perspective on social reality construction.
... Especially television is still important for the continuous reporting of protest events and movements and has not yet been replaced by social media. What is typical, rather, is the (4) increasing degree of differentiation within media infrastructures and the interdependencies between different media, in which the internet and social media play an important but not exclusive role (Schrape 2016;Van Dijck and Poell 2013). Moreover, the use of social media by no means removes the, formerly often deplored, dependency of social movements on the media. ...
Book +++ This book provides a comprehensive overview of the manifestations and interrelations of collectivity and power on the internet from a sociological point of view. It addresses questions on how different forms of internet-based collectivities (masses, crowds, movements, communities ) could be understood and differentiated from one another. It presents analyses on the role technical infrastructures of the web play for their formation, how the mobilization and organization of social movements and social protests has changed through social media, how work and decision-making processes are organized in open source communities and why the essential segments of the commercial internet are today concentrated in the hands of a few corporations who dispose over significant economic, infrastructural and rule-setting power.
... Especially television is still important for the continuous reporting of protest events and movements and has not yet been replaced by social media. What is typical, rather, is the (4) increasing degree of differentiation within media infrastructures and the interdependencies between different media, in which the internet and social media play an important but not exclusive role (Schrape 2016;Van Dijck and Poell 2013). Moreover, the use of social media by no means removes the, formerly often deplored, dependency of social movements on the media. ...
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Open source development has become an integral part of the software industry and a key component of the innovation strategies of all major IT providers. Against this backdrop, this article seeks to develop a systematic overview of open source communities and their socio-economic contexts. It begins with a reconstruction of the genesis of open source software projects and their changing relationships to established IT companies. This is followed by the identification of four ideal-type variants of current open source projects that differ significantly in their modes of coordination and the degree of corporate involvement. Further, the article examines why open source projects have mainly lost their subversive potential while, in contrast to former cases of collective invention, remaining viable beyond the emergence of predominant solutions and their commercial exploitation. In an industry that is characterized by very short innovation cycles, open source projects have proven to be important incubators for new product lines and branch-defining infrastructures. They do not compete against classical forms of production but instead complement and expand these.
... Especially television is still important for the continuous reporting of protest events and movements and has not yet been replaced by social media. What is typical, rather, is the (4) increasing degree of differentiation within media infrastructures and the interdependencies between different media, in which the internet and social media play an important but not exclusive role (Schrape 2016;Van Dijck and Poell 2013). Moreover, the use of social media by no means removes the, formerly often deplored, dependency of social movements on the media. ...
This article investigates two questions: One, how might the very differently structured social collectives on the internet—masses, crowds, communities and movements—be classified and distinguished? And two, what influence do the technological infrastructures in which they operate have on their formation, structure and activities? For this, we differentiate between two main types of social collectives: non-organized collectives, which exhibit loosely coupled collective behavior, and collective actors with a separate identity and strategic capability. Further, we examine the newness, or distinctive traits, of online-based collectives. We consider that newness to be comprised of the strong and hitherto non-existent interplay between the technological infrastructures that these collectives are embedded in and the social processes of coordination and institutionalization they must engage in order to maintain their viability over time. Conventional patterns of social dynamics in the development and stabilization of collective action are now systematically intertwined with technology-induced processes of structuration.
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The platformization of communication architectures is accompanied by a diversification of individual media use and an erosion of clear structural boundaries between different streams of public exchange. Nevertheless, it is by now evident that the digital transfor-mation does not lead to a general loss of relevance of journalistic services or mass-received content per se and that selection thresholds remain in public communication despite increased connectivity. Against this backdrop, this paper argues that it is still instructive to describe the negotiation of public visibility as a multi-level process, which is now essentially shaped by the peculiarities of digital platforms: First, it examines the increasing platform orientation in media diffusion. Second, it discusses the associated diversification of individual media repertoires and the pluralization of public exchange. Then, the paper elaborates on three basic levels of public communication characterized by a heterogenous interplay of social and technical structuring services.
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+++ +++ Aus prozesssoziologischer Perspektive tritt hervor, dass sich in der gegenwärtigen Diskussion um Big Data und Privatheit viele Thesen und Erwartungen widerspiegeln, die im Zuge der allmählichen Computerisierung und Informatisierung der Gesellschaft bereits in den Jahrzehnten zuvor immer wieder formuliert worden sind. Darüber hinaus zeigt sich, dass sich die Unterscheidung zwischen ‚privat‘ und ‚öffentlich‘ selbst in vielen Belangen erst im Horizont grundlegender medientechnischer Umbrüche in der Lebenswelt verfestigt hat. Der vorliegende Beitrag beschreibt den Übergang zur Daten- und Informationsgesellschaft insofern nicht als Revolution in kurzer Frist, sondern als graduellen und langfristigen Transformationsprozess, in dem das Verhältnis von Privatheit und Öffentlichkeit beständig neu austariert wird.
Building on the debates about a digital economy and the emergence of platform capitalism, this article analyzes the structures, functions, and reach of commercial platforms on the Internet as well as the interaction of concentration and competitive dynamics in platform markets. From an economic point of view, online digital platforms exert a radical restructuring pressure in particular on already existing economic sectors; however, they do not constitute fundamentally new economic sectors, have a very limited repertoire of business models, and do not establish a substantially new type of firm. Against this background, the author posits the thesis that these platforms’ novelty, which distinguishes them from their predecessors, is that they extend well beyond the structuring of purely economic contexts and reach deep into society: Through them, large parts of private and public exchange are privately organized, curated, and commodified.
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Zusammenfassung Die „digitale Gesellschaft“ verspricht erweiterte Spielräume in der Bearbeitung der Folgen funktionaler Differenzierung für eine Varietät zivilgesellschaftlicher Gegenmächte. Vor diesem Hintergrund nimmt unser Aufsatz die Synchronisationsprozesse zwischen Medien, Politik und Recht in den Blick und diskutiert neue Irritationspotentiale gegenüber autonom operierenden Systemen. Wir beginnen mit einem Rekurs auf die rechtssoziologische Theorie reflexiver Steuerung und stellen danach zentrale Thesen zur Beschleunigung der Korrektur(bedürftigkeit) der Gesellschaft durch Digitalisierung und Internet vor. Daran anknüpfend explizieren wir entlang empirischer Fallskizzen die These, dass eine Effektivierung der Kommunikation alleine noch nicht zu einer erhöhten Annahmewahrscheinlichkeit für die jeweiligen Korrekturanfragen durch das adressierte System führt, sondern dass das Finden und Herstellen anschlussgünstiger Formen nach wie vor ein organisational aufwändiger Prozess ist, der nicht technisch überbrückt werden kann und das Recht in einer zwar veränderten, aber wesentlichen Rolle sieht. Abschließend ordnen wir unsere Überlegungen in eine evolutionäre Perspektive ein.
Full-text available +++ Der Beitrag vertritt die These, dass akteurzentrierte und systemtheoretische Zugriffsweisen weniger in einem konkurrierenden als in einem komplementären Verhältnis zueinander stehen, da sie ihr soziologisches Seziermesser auf divergenten Untersuchungsebenen ansetzen. Vor diesem Hintergrund wird zunächst die Konstruktion der Beobachtungskategorie des „Akteurs“ im akteurzentrierten Institutionalismus beleuchtet, bevor die Dekonstruktion individueller und überindividueller Akteure als stabile Handlungseinheiten in der Theorie sozialer Systeme nachgezeichnet wird. Daran anknüpfend werden am Beispiel der durch die Onlinetechnologien angestoßenen Transformationsprozesse die jeweiligen Beobachtungsschwerpunkte und -lücken illustriert. Der Text mündet in einem Plädoyer für ein produktives Nebeneinander beider Perspektiven.
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