peasantThe medium was the message in 2011, a year in which revolution and riot were ignited by social media. The persistent insistence that the internet has come to represent a force for democratisation has come under increasing scrutiny. The # is equated to a symbol of equality and freedom, but the extent to which this parallelogram marks out our personal Hyde and becomes a symbol of our own serfdom is something I have recently questioned.

The similarities between social media and feudalism resonate under closer inspection of the ideologies underpinning the two systems. In announcement prior to the announcement of Facebook’s IPO, Zuckerberg announced "we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better…” Feudalism, a system based on social interaction, functioned on a peasants willingness to toil to maintain a space in return for protection, nourishment and submission to authority.

The reciprocity of relations in feudalism echoes the reciprocity of relations in feudalism. Social media is reminiscent of feudalism as we work to rent a segment of cyberspace (a Hyde), be it a profile page, a news feed or a channel, from a corporation (or a magnate) ie Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Like feudal lords these sites (estates) profit through our willingness to work for free and pay for our space through site maintenance. Because we do not give capital for our segment of cyberspace, we pay for it in other ways.

Just as the serfs had no control over their regulating authorities, we too have no space to protest over site updates (for example, the introduction of Facebook timeline). When taken in this context social media appears on an oddly retrograde. It is then that the uprisings of 2011 become the doppelgängers of the Early Modern Peasants Revolution.

Both Luther and Swedenborg were inspired to action partially due to the apparent corruption in the feudal system and the arrival of new media which allowed them to disseminate a message of egalitarianism and revolution. The reformation changed the shape of Europe. However, what has become clear in the wake of the revolutions in 2011 is the difficulty which users of social media have had to impact on any lasting or meaningful change.