THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY: A CASE STUDY OF THREE FACEBOOK GROUPS
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As far back as 1918, John Dewey cautioned that democracy should not be identified with “economic individualism as the essence of freedom of action” (Dewey, 1954). He saw freedom as grounded socially in the human experience of “communicative (not merely economic) exchange through which individuals orient themselves to the world” (Couldry, 2010, p. 133). These communicative exchanges are necessary for people to live an authentically human life. In the widely dispersed societies of the twenty-first century, journalism and mass communication are necessary for this communicative exchange. This dissertation argues that Facebook, through purposefully designed and organized groups, can facilitate such communicative exchanges for social classes that are given short shrift by the mainstream media. I posit that due to their ability to select, control, and filter media content according to their specified needs and concerns, rather than have media fare dictated to them by the dominant classes, social media users in general, and Facebook groups composed of subordinate classes in particular, have the capacity to cultivate and nurture discourses that challenge the views and opinions of the dominant publics in which these groups are located. Using counterpublic theory à la Nancy Fraser, Catherine Squires, and Michael Warner, this dissertation analyzes the media content that members of three Facebook groups shared on their groups’ Facebook walls, and how this content helped them articulate oppositional voices and identities. Based in Kenya, the first group, Freethinkers Initiative Kenya (FIKA), identifies with freethought and atheism in a society that is predominantly Christian. The second group, Pan-African Network (PAN) promotes the interests of Africans across the globe, campaigning for the advancement of a proud black identity in a world increasingly perceived as hostile to Blacks and people of African descent. The third group, Women Without Religion (WWR), espouses a feminist atheist identity that opposes “white male supremacy,” and speaks against the perceived oppression of women occasioned by the patriarchal religions of the Judeo-Christian heritage.