Beyond the Soapbox: Facebook and the Public Sphere in Egypt

Author(s) Anton Root
Contact Anton Root, New York University, 71 Beadel St., Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA. E-mail:
Issue CyberOrient, Vol. 6, Iss. 1, 2012, pp. 77-100
Published May 10, 2012
Type Article
Abstract The question of the internet as a forum for political debate is continuously contested. My research grows out of such scholarship but focuses specifically on Facebook as a virtual public sphere in Egypt. Based on an analysis of a note posted by Wael Ghonim during the January 25 uprising on the Facebook group ‘We are all Khaled Said,’ I discuss the structural and technological benefits of the platform, as well as user behavior and interaction with one another. Using Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks as the theoretical groundwork for my study, I make observations about the internet’s ability to allow considered opinion, not just to record popular sentiment. I argue that while Facebook’s structure has both drawbacks and advantages for promoting discussion, the new medium's biggest limitation in helping to produce a virtual public sphere is user inexperience with the platform.
Keywords social media, Arab Spring, Egypt, activism, democracy