La Croix: Have social networks transformed the notion of scandal?
Jérôme Lèbre : Originally, the term scandal originated in the Bible since it was chosen to translate a Hebrew expression meaning “the opportunity to fall into error”. We must therefore understand the notion of scandal as something that is within us and that an external element makes manifest.
Now, today, we observe that two things come together: the collusion between public and private life, which has always been the subject of debate, and the new power of social networks. Once an element of privacy is made public, its importance is greatly and rapidly amplified by the number and nature of reactions on these social networks. This is what usually turns private data into a scandal.
But today, I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised to see that part of the reaction on Twitter was less about condemnation than a meta-discourse on the principle of social networks. Many internet users have not taken the bait and have instead wondered about the need to debate around such private content in a public space.
Are we giving up on the idea of ”privacy”?
J. L: When microphones and cameras appeared several decades ago, some immediately thought of using them to spy on their neighbors, especially in the United States. At that time, researchers were already talking about the obsolescence of the private sphere or even the “Soul delivery” others. From this point of view there, France has always presented a specificity since the private sphere remains particularly sacred.
However, since the appearance of technological means which allow to reveal more, we have witnessed a real paradox between the conscious and the unconscious. We allow ourselves to step up to defend our privacy, but we neglect it on a daily basis. It’s really surprising how easily people can provide their bank details, address or medical information.
Today it is clear that a public figure like a politician, and moreover, a candidate for an election, must know that any private content that passes into the hands of others becomes a weapon of manipulation. This can become the subject of blackmail, Internet dissemination, and by extension, scandal. In this we play with our privacy and we are all equally oblivious.
Should we really consider social networks as a threat to democracy?
J. L: Social networks are great tools of democracy, the proof being that they are the first spheres controlled by undemocratic regimes. There is a real compatibility with modern society because the hierarchies are somewhat smoothed: the speech, the reactions and the questions can go from top to bottom but also from bottom to top.
You just have to integrate the fact that a social network is a virtual public space that concentrates a large part of the people. We already know who we are going to listen to and who we are going to hate, and we take the risk of reinforcing our opinion.
In reality, during such “scandals”, I don’t think the best thing to do is to blame social networks by denouncing their abuses. It is rather an opportunity to focus on the work to be done, before their use, on the fundamentals of democracy such as education for citizenship, dialogue and respect. The social network is a mirror of the flaws in society, not their cause.