Communities and Social Media

Facebook and Twitter have become a third space for citizens to have freedom of expression on political views

By Nakia Stevens


This article explores social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and how they have become a third space for citizens to have freedom of expression on political views.  Drawing on the importance of online communities and how they build social relationships and a way for citizens to engage in political talk and be part of online communities that supports their beliefs and values. It examines the relationships between citizens and the complexities of online communities and how citizens are changing media practices. The third space has become a political sphere where citizens can raise social issues such as gender inequalities, cultural beliefs, and social change.  Networked publics have merged with online communities and a new online environment which is changing digital culture that has shaped our everyday media practices and altering citizens behaviors and attitudes.  The article reviews how political campaigns are using Facebook and Twitter and politicians’ advantage of analysing what citizens are thinking on social issues. Examples of how Donald Trump utilised his Twitter account to engage with his followers by using target analysis and data analytics to divert any content would comprise his presidency. The article looks at the accountability of Facebook and should they be responsible for the free flow of content that citizens can participate in and allow politicians to distribute content for political gain.


              Online platforms are a way for citizens to share, interact, and participate through a network public and build social interactions between other citizens that share similar ideas and interests. Social media and our everyday lives have changed with new media practices altering citizens’ behaviors and attitudes.  This article discusses the concept of the third space and how this has created a political sphere for citizens to engage in political debates and for citizens to have freedom of expression on social issues based on individual beliefs and values.   Facebook and Twitter have become a third-place environment with their technological affordances which provides a way for citizens to engage in discussions that they feel are important and can contribute and make social change.  By exploring communitarianism and the relationships between the individual and online communities, we can critically analyse the impact of digital culture and how citizens are engaging on relevant topics that they can participate in.  This article provides two examples of political involvement and how politicians can influence citizen’s participation and engage content designed to create engagement and public response and influence what citizens decide to comment on.  Facebook and Twitter need to be accountable for what some of the content distributed through ‘networked publics’. More regulation is needed to protect citizens and their freedom of speech.  The digital experience, as altered as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, has become a third space for citizens to express freedom of expression on political views.

Online Communities

             The purpose of creating online communities through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are to build social interactions between individuals and to create a participatory culture with user-generated content.  Technological advances through these “network publics” have created a digital culture that has shaped and altered everyday media practices and “citizens” behaviors (Hampton & Wellman, 2018, p. 646).  Network publics allow citizens to share, engage and participate in similar interests or similar lifestyles and allow citizens to form and interact as ‘networked publics. Citizens feel that their contributions matter with a solid social connection through these online communities (Boyd, 2010, p. 39). The relationship between citizens and their online communities is not just a way for social interactions and connections but a sense of belonging and creating new possibilities for expression and a new realm of social relations and communication (Delanty, 2018, p .201).  Online communities combined with advanced technologies are changing the way citizens interact online. New forms of expression have immersed, impacting social relations and a social relationships system of citizens commenting on foreign matters and issues they feel that are important to them.  

             Network publics and participatory culture have now merged with online communities. Online communities can form ‘networked publics’ and have a participatory culture that citizens can now engage and comment on social issues and political matters. This is changing our everyday social behaviors and creating online political communities and changing citizens cultural behaviors (Bertot et al, 2012, p. 30).  However, there are further developments with social media platforms and how citizens interact with each other and how online communities develop and engage within a participatory culture is the idea of ‘third space.’ The third space defines a public space where political discussion can occur with ordinary citizens through online communities.  Public spaces that are beyond the home (first space) or work (second space) and political communication engaged through online communities.  Political matters are interweaved with political talk, and citizens interact in cultural, social, and education debates (Potter & McDougall, 2017, p. 39).  This digital practice for citizens to engage and participate in these political discussions through social media platforms and where political talk is constructed through online communities has created an ‘in-between’ space for citizens to engage in essential topics.  The in-between space via public networks continually transforms digital culture (Edirisinghe et al., 2011, p. 410).   This digital culture allows citizens to express political views and how they citizens feel they have freedom of speech on these platforms without any consequences.  Citizens feel they have the right to have the freedom of expression on these issues and a way to express their views and their contributions matter.  Citizens are participating in the political sphere through these digital spaces and user-generated content is passed around, questioning who is responsible for the content flow and what is being shared. Younger people are now commenting on political matters and developing their knowledge about politics and civic matters through social media platforms without the realization of the consequences of participating on political content such as fake news and being part of online communities that can promote political activity (Harris, 2008, p. 482).  Citizens are forming new political practices and commenting on social inequalities such as sexuality, family relations, education and having their views on these matters. The content generated influences everyday media practices and citizen’s behavior, and government political parties’ impact the political discussions and communications.

Twitter and Facebook and the Third Space

             Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become a way for citizens to have their freedom of expression on political affairs and engage with online communities. These social media platforms can influence citizens with the content shared and impact these media practices and then alters citizen’s behaviors on how they interact and comment and share information on these networks (Couldry, 2004, p. 117). Facebook and Twitter have become a third place for political debate and generating online communities through these public networks. Political communities can form social identities and marginalised citizens thinking. Online communities can be formed into a political sphere that explores citizen’s individualism and their beliefs. Citizens can then be part of an online community that supports their cultural beliefs, and citizens feel they contribute to a society and possible social change. (Delanty, 2018, p. 93).

             Delanty (2018) defines ‘communitarianism’ as the connections between the individual and the community they belong to (Delanty, 2018, p. 89). Understanding how communitarianism works in relation to media practices and how citizens are engaging in political communities, which is shaping political communication, and citizens are expressing their point of view and changing values and attitudes. 

             We can see how influential social media platforms are and their technical design and digital architecture by creating fan pages, group pages, hashtags, and the allowances of Web 2.0 technologies. These social media affordances allow citizens to engage in political content, which is beneficial for politicians and a way to find potential voters rather than the traditional marketing strategies (Treadway, 2020, p. 264). By examining communitarianism, we see how politicians can use this to create content based on individual beliefs and values such as religion and culture, and patriotism. 

             Politicians use social media to interact and reach out to their followers and create a third space for citizens to express their political matters. Politicians engage with their followers and interact with ‘political talk’ by using social media affordances and technological design to change our everyday social media practices. Citizens feel they have the freedom of expression to voice their opinions, and citizens comment on issues such as racism, gender inequalities, and ageism (Swigger, 2013, p. 601). Politicians build their online communities with them on social media platforms and discuss topics that citizens feel important to them. It is to their benefit from creating engagement and public response.   

             Social media platform ‘Facebook’ is one of the most influencing networks and allows participatory culture of sharing and connecting and creating user-generated content. The Facebook culture of following a friend and interacting daily on what citizens are doing has developed into sociable interactions and engaging with online communities and finding social groups with similar interests (Parks, 2010, p. 106). However, Facebook has become a third space for political discussion and creating online political communities. Facebook affordances have the opportunity for the freedom of speech that allows citizens to engage in political engagement and influence decision-making and thoughts on political views. Facebook’s infrastructures allow the production of user-generated content, and policies are fragmented within their platform, questioning more governance throughout the platform.  Facebook’s technology affordances need more effective ways of managing the social responsibilities of what content is being shared and participated in.  Barrack Obama was the first elected president that campaigned his election using the support of social media and engaging with his followers and gained an insight into what his followers were thinking on social inequalities and other political matters (Bertot, Jaeger, Hensen, 2012, p. 30-32).

             Twitter is an online social networking communication platform that microblogs, and citizens can tweet their daily activity. One of Twitter’s key features is the hashtag, Gerrard (2018) explains the hashtag as “connecting content between two users, who have no preexisting follow/folloee relationship” (Gerrard, 2018, p. 4494). Donald Trump’s Twitter account grew in his first election campaigning in 2015. Trump’s followers went from 3 million to over 13million followers. (Wells et al., p. 186). By analysing how Trump used his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump to gain citizens’ attention, we must understand what content he engaged with his followers. Lewandowsky et al. (2020) analysis is how Trump diverted harmful content created by the media and used keywords to represent his preferred topics. Topics that could be harmful to his presidency and potential conflict were Russia and potential interference with election campaigning and the investigation of the Mueller case; these diversionary Twitter topics were immigration, jobs, and China. Trump was able to target analysis on what citizens were thinking about these political issues and use these analytics of data to respond to the media and deflect some of the media content (Lewandowsky et al., p.10).

             Facebook and Twitter have impacted media practices, and citizens have adapted new online behaviors and attitudes with commenting on political issues. These online behaviors are now shifting the way we present ourselves and there are concerns that there are potential consequences to the way we engage in political content. 

Consequences of the third space

             Government officials have merged with social media networks and engaging with their citizens through a third space creating political talk that could have consequences. There are possible consequences for citizens and online communities and their freedom of expression on social issues that could potentially be part of hate speech. There are also concerns that citizens freedom of expression is being monitored and analysed for political gain (De Nardis & Hackel, 2015, p. 761). However, civil rights advocates and free speech experts hold Facebook accountable for misinterpretation of campaigns and advertising that politicians have created for political gain. Citizens can be manipulated into what content is on Facebook should remove all political advertising from their platforms (Romm, 2020). 

             Social media platforms need to protect their online communities through policies and privacy issues and citizens freedom of speech. Online communities that create opportunities for citizens to discuss and engage on social issues need to look at how they will regulate the free flow of content that their citizens interact in. 


             Citizens have changed the way they use Facebook and Twitter.  These platforms form online communities and create a third space for citizens to engage and participate in content that connects to their beliefs and values. The relationship between citizens and their online communities has created a sense of belonging and citizens to contribute and voice their opinions.  Online communities explore citizen’s individualism and support citizen’s views and social interactions by allowing the freedom of expression and connecting to citizens with similar views.  Citizens are engaging in political communication and taking to online communities for daily news feeds and to discuss their views on social issues and discuss social change.  This is altering and changing media practices and changing citizen behaviours.  Social media platforms and technological advances have also impacted citizen’s’ behaviours and attitudes by interacting on political discussions to generate discussion and public response. This content generated is for political gain and to analyse what citizens are thinking and what they are commenting on. Both Donald Trump and Obama utilised Facebook and Twitter to connect to their followers and target potential voters.  Citizens are influenced by what content is created, and politicians use strategic target analysis and keywords to engage with citizens to create engagement and participation. Facebook and Twitter need to change policy infrastructures and regulate the content that politicians create to protect citizens freedom of speech.  Social media platforms have become a third space for citizens to have freedom of speech on political views and have shifted media practices, changed citizen’s behaviours, and impacted social relations and formed a new social system. 


Bertot, J., Jaeger, P., & Hansen, D. (2012). The impact of polices on government social media usage: Issues, challenges, and recommendations, Government Information Quarterly, 29(1). 30-40. Retrieved from

Boyd, D. (2010). Social network sites as Networked publics, Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications, In Papacharissi, Z. (Ed.). A networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social network sites. 39-58. Retrieved from

Couldry, N (2004) Theorising media as practice, Social Semiotics, 14(2,) 115 132, DOI: 10.1080/1035033042000238295

Delanty, G. (2018). Community: 3rd edition (3rd ed.). Routledge.

DeNardis, L., & Hackl, A. M. (2015). Internet governance by social media platforms. Telecommunications Policy, (39)9, 761-770. Retrieved from

Edirisinghe C., Nakatsu R., Cheok A., Widodo J. (2011) Exploring the Concept of Third Space within Networked Social Media. In: Anacleto J.C., Fels S., Graham N., Kapralos B., Saif El-Nasr M., Stanley K. (eds) Entertainment Computing., (pp 399-402) Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Gerrard, Y. (2018). Beyond the hashtag: Circumventing content moderation on social media. New Media & Society20(12), 4492–4511.

 Hampton, K. N., & Wellman, B. (2018). Lost and Saved . . . Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of Community Takes Hold of Social Media. Contemporary Sociology47(6), 643–651.

Harris, A. (2008). Young women, late modern politics, and the participatory possibilities of online cultures, Journal of Youth Studies, 11(5), 481-495, DOI: 10.1080/13676260802282950

Lewandowsky, S., Jetter, M., & Ecker, U. K. H. (2020). Using the president’s tweets to understand political diversion in the age of social media. Nature Communications, 11(1), 5764. doi:

Parks, M. (2010). Social network sites as virtual communities. Papacharissi, Z. (Eds.). A networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social network sites. (106-123) Taylor & Francis Group,

Potter J., McDougall J. (2017) Third Spaces and Digital Making. In: Digital Media, Culture and Education. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Romm, T. (2019). Zuckerberg’s speech draws ire from 2020 candidates, civil rights advocates.

Swigger, N. (2013). The Online Citizen: Is Social Media Changing Citizens’ Beliefs About Democratic Values? Political Behaviour, 35(3), 589-603. Retrieved from

Treadaway, C., & Smith, M. (2012). Facebook marketing: An hour a day. Indianapolis: John Wiley & Sons Retrieved from

Wells, C., Zhang, Y., Lukito , J., &  Pevehouse , J. (2020) Modeling the Formation of Attentive Publics in Social Media: The Case of Donald Trump, Mass Communication and Society, 23 (2), 181-205, DOI: 10.1080/15205436.2019.1690664

11 thoughts on “Facebook and Twitter have become a third space for citizens to have freedom of expression on political views

  1. Hello Nakia

    An excellent read! Twitter and Facebook have indeed become a third space, for politicians to engage with the online communities for their political agendas. These social media platforms have a large number of users, making it easy for politicians to convey their political agendas. Social media platforms like these promote ‘Communitarianism’ the term you mentioned in your paper. Freedom of expression makes Twitter and Facebook an easy platform for users to convey their opinions, facilitate collective action and play a big role in activism, organization, and mobilization of social and political causes.
    Freedom of speech however has its own implications as witnessed in several political cases. What is the extent to which one can go?

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read my paper Kanishk
      I have enjoyed our discussions from Food to Politics. It goes to show that we have connect to most things and have shared interests.

      Good luck with the rest of the semester

  2. Hi Nakia,

    It’s an interesting point you have raised about how “Younger people are now commenting on political matters and developing their knowledge about politics and civic matters through social media platforms without the realization of the consequences of participating on political content such as fake news and being part of online communities that can promote political activity”.

    I have recently seen a lot of posts being shared in my friend’s Instagram stories in regards to the Palestine/Israeli conflict. I know very little on the issue apart from what people have shared and what one of my peers in my food security class has briefly discussed with us from her history unit. I’ve come to realise it is a very complex and multifaceted conflict where no party is innocent, which makes me annoyed when someone shares a simplified infographic of a biased and heavily politicised explanation of the current situation. I think this is a very dangerous thing and while social media is great and allows a greater freedom of expression, the ability for anyone to post anything that may incite violence and conflict without credible sources or understanding of the situation is one of its biggest downfalls.

    1. Hi Eva

      Yes, its very interesting isn’t it, that we don’t even know that we are following political content and worldly affairs and what is concerning we only get what is edited and what people’s views are. We are very much entering a new realm where news broadcasting and media will have to look at how they channel their news and try something different, because more and more citizens are going to social media to watch news and get there information.


  3. Hi Nikita,

    Social media continues to be believed as a modern emancipator which enables citizens to engage in political debates and exercise freedom of expression. In today’s digitally intimate society, social media platforms have revolutionised the convenient distribution of information enabling the mass spread of advocacy, awareness, and social change. This new digital third space as enabled a multitude of citizens with similar views to easily congregate and participate in political discussions.

    But as I discuss as part of my own conference paper (, social media sites such as Facebook, only enable communities of similar ideological stances to congregate and participate in political discourse. A third space according to Delanty (2018), are public spaces that have existed throughout time as cafes, public libraries, universities, and wherever public debate took place outside formal institutions that enable a diverse range of people to congregate and participate in political deliberations. Virtual communities certainly exist as communities based on shared identities and beliefs, but as Delanty (2018) explains, these kinds of community are ineffective in fostering democracy. Facebook and similar platforms enable the capacity for greater connection between people with similarities while inadvertently excluding people who do not necessarily share the groups ideology. If these platforms, such as Facebook, only enable people with similar ideological perspectives to congregate together and participate in discussions, can social media sites be deemed as a real third space?

    Your paper also brings up the interesting topic of political figures engaging with citizens through social media platforms. In your paper you discuss how Obama and Trump extensively used social media in order to create a suitable narrative for their campaigns and presidential terms. As a type of amalgamation of horizontal and vertical communication flow, these political figures connect with their supports and potential voters through the same third space that the public use to discuss the relation of state and power. If the political figures are using the same space that is intended for citizens to debate political proceedings, can this digital arena really be deemed as a true third space?

    Delanty, G. (2018). Community: 3rd edition (3rd ed.). Routledge.

    1. Thank you for your reply and I look forward to reading your paper. Social Media has changed significantly and there seems to be so many variables and new cultures arising all the time. We are merging more into a digital space because people feel they can be more expressive about political matters on social media. Citizens feels that they can say anything, without any having any consequences, however, we both know that this is not the case. Citizens are forming more communities on-line because of similar interests and they feel they can be more expressive. I start in my article ‘Public spaces that are beyond the home (first space) or work (second space) and political communication engaged through online communities. Political matters are interweaved with political talk, and citizens interact in cultural, social, and education debates’ (Potter & McDougall, 2017, p. 39). I feel that this digital arena that is happening on Social Media is a third space, and it makes be wonder what will happen next. Is the third space going to create more spaces within itself? With technology affordances and more rise in political expression and more communities forming, it is this an opportunity for citizens to form more communities to enhance more hate speech and on topics they feel that are important to them and connecting to people that have these similar views

  4. Hi Nakia,
    What an insightful and powerful statement on the third space.
    It’s really fascinating to consider how the platform of the third space, this “new” space, converges other platforms, and creates this new space for discourse and community. Do the social media platforms have an obligation to manage content? Yes definitely – but its interesting to consider how censorship can be seen as a politically motivated act in itself.

    You mention politicians use of social media ie Barack Obama. I think its fascinating how far the arms of politics can reach given the spreadable nature of media that exists in the third space and as you mention, it gives politicians the ability to understand the public. You also mention what Trump was doing by using Twitter analytics – its really interesting how the technology enables politicians to directly target their campaigns toward the pulse of the people or the zeitgeist, that they’re able to pander to through examining the sounding board for life that Twitter has become.

    I think you raise an excellent point about freedom of speech and social media. What are the implications? What are the limits? Who sets the rules and what obligations does the platform have? Freedom of speech is a tricky one online – at what point does limiting the free flow of speech from all parties become limiting to free speech? And in allowing freedom of speech in its purest most obvious form online on social media platforms, unfortunately you leave the platforms open to hateful, illegal and dangerous conduct. I guess its about developing standards for the third space and then entrusting the platform to govern effectively.

    Great paper!
    Kind Regards,

    1. Thank you so much for your views on this paper. In response to some of your questions and the implications of freedom of speech and social media. I personally think its only going to get worse. Since Trumps speech on Jan 6th, we have seen out communities have engaged with a politician to cause violence. Social Media platforms need to take more accountability on how communities are formed and there needs to be more regulations. I feel this is the only start of much bigger things in relation to hate speech and dangerous conduct. The world is a crazy place right now and more people are feeling vulnerable and looking for ways to connect with others who are feeling the same. There is hurt and people are losing so much. People are looking to join more groups and I think social media is just going to be a place for those who are looking for more communities and expressing their opinions

      1. That’s a great point you make about social media providing a safe space for people looking for a safe community outside of our crazy world.
        Its true, especially given our recent and ongoing pandemic, people have embraced the safety of online spaces.
        I live in Melbourne, and we had a very long lockdown last year. Online spaces and technologies suddenly became our complete connection to the outside world. We used the internet to communicate, continue our jobs, video-call friends and family etc. As we were only allowed out for an hour a day and for awhile had the nightly curfew, it felt like the third space had indeed replaced our physical world or at least, provided a version of, or simulacra, of society.

        More needs to be done to ensure the internet is a safe space, considering that youth rely on it more to develop and understand their identity – it is shaping society and housing us when the outside world becomes dangerous – it doesn’t replace the outside world – but its interesting to consider how people feel safer to join communities virtually, rather than in “real life”. Could virtual communities be making us fearful of joining them in real life outside of the third space?

  5. Hi Nakia,

    Great paper! It’s funny reading your paper next to mine as they’re quite similar but also very different. It’s like we both started with the idea that citizens are on SNS’s and other networked publics and then worked back from there but both landed somewhere totally different. I liked your analysis on how citizens have appropriated SNS affordances to gather political information, and also to voice political opinion. Also the linking of those behaviours to the behaviour of politicians campaigning through use of networked publics almost creates an information loop. They’re all lurking, and listening, and communicating to fulfill their own agendas.

    With the increasing prevalence and understanding of fake news practices, what do think will be the future of political commentary in networked publics, and also campaigning in these spaces? Do you think there’ll be increased regulation etc? Or less “official” information dissemination, but more, or just continued, community chatter?

    1. Thanks, Kymberly for your post and your feedback. I am presently reading yours and comparing notes.
      The question in “what do you think will be the future of political commentary in networking publics and campaigning in these spaces?
      – In another unit I am analysing the speech of Trump just before the riots had happened and listening to key words that reached to people and how they went to social media to then react and form communities. Unfortunately, I do see this happening a lot more especially in campaigns. Citizens feel they cannot express their own opinions in an off-line presence and social media is a way for citizens to express themselves and in a way be heard, whether the intention is good or bad. Due to worldly affairs, this is a way people feel they can connect. Connect to politicians and what is going on with issues that are concerning. Facebook and Twitter have too much power and I read an interesting article, that if Facebook was a country, it would rule the world. Why I thought it was interesting, it is because I feel that this is true. They have too much influence on what we can see and with technological affordances that will only get worse. Policiticans now this and I think with the recent Facebook battle and shut down media content, for a week and realised just how much Facebook has control. This will be interesting because the power battle will start between Social Media and Policitians. Or the biggest threat is how they will join forces even more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *