Surfing the Public Square: On Worldlessness, Social Media, and the Dissolution of the Polis

Sue Spaid 1
  • 1 , Maransart, Belgium


This paper employs Hannah Arendt’s characterization of the social, which lacks location and mandates conformity, to evaluate social media’s: a) challenge to the polis, b) relationship to the social, b) influence on private space, d) impact on public space, and e) virus-like capacity to capture, mimic, and replicate the agonistic polis, where “everything [is] decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence.” Using Arendt’s exact language, this paper begins by discussing how she differentiated the political, private, social, and public realms. After explaining how online activities resemble (or not) her notion of the social, I demonstrate how the rise of the social, which she characterized as dominated by behavior (not action), ruled by nobody and occurring nowhere, continues to eclipse both private and public space at an alarming pace. Finally, I discuss the ramifications of social media’s setting the stage for worldlessness to spin out of control, as the public square becomes an intangible web. Unlike an Arendtian web of worldly human relationships that fosters individuality and enables excellence to be publicly tested, social media feeds a craving for kinship and connection, however remotely. Leaving such needs unfulfilled, social media risks to trump bios politicos.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Arendt, Hannah. Peter Baehr (ed.). The Portable Hannah Arendt. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

  • Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

  • Arendt, Hannah. The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1981.

  • Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

  • Benkler, Yochai. The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Trumphs over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Publishing, 2011.

  • Chang, Kenneth. “Obama Plan Privatizes Astronaut Launchings,” New York Times, January 29, 2010, p. A10.

  • Frick, Marie-Luisa and Andreas Oberprantacher. “Shared is not yet Sharing, Or: What Makes Social Networking Services Public?” International Review of Information Ethics, Vol. 15 (2011).

  • Illouz, Eva. Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, London: Polity Press, 2007.

  • Johnson, Steven. Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

  • Morozov, Evgeny. “Why Social Movements Should Ignore Social Media,” The New Republic, February 5, 2013. Accessed 3 November 2019.

  • Rothstein, Adam. “Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition and Social Media,” December 2015. Accessed 2 November 2019.

  • Salikov, Alexey. “Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas, and Rethinking the Public Sphere in the Age of Social Media,” Russian Sociological Review, Vol. 17 (2018), 88-102.

  • Schwarz, Elke. “@hannah_arendt: An Arendtian Critique of Online Social Networks,” Millennium Journal of International Studies, Vol. 43 (1) (2014), 165-186.

  • “Social Networking Report”. New York: Nielsen, 2009.

  • Spaid, Sue. “Rewalking the Public Square: Are Social Networking Sites (Just) Social?” Third Hannah Arendt Circle, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 2009.


Journal + Issues

Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.