Fifth Estate User’s Manual

The Fifth Estate includes social media, blogs, the internet in general, and all of us.

Estates One, Two, and Three

The first “three estates” describe the social hierarchy in medieval times. It consisted of

  1. the clergy,
  2. nobility, and
  3. commoners.

But the term has been re-applied many times, and not always to denote groups or classes.

  • England’s Parliamentary system has the Sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.
  • The United States Constitution has been said to embody a different three estate system with the President, the Legislature, and the Courts.
  • Pre-revolutionary France had clergy, nobility, and commoners.

The Fourth Estate

The fourth estate began with the Gutenberg press which made information available to the general populace at relatively low cost.

In today’s world, the fourth estate is more generally acknowledged as the press and news media and, key to differentiating them from the next (fifth) estate, traditional media has some sort of gatekeeper. The newspaper’s Chief Editor would decide what to include in tomorrow’s edition. Today’s high-volume book publishers–Penguin Random HouseHachetteHarperCollinsSimon & Schuster and Macmillan–employ teams of editors and marketers that pick and choose from thousands of submissions before bringing a book to print.

Numero Cinco, the Fifth Estate

The fifth estate–social media, blogs, the internet in general, and all of us–has no gatekeeper. You can start a blog, create a Twitter account, and speak your piece, whatever you want.

You may notice I’ve omitted Facebook from the fifth estate. While this social media provider started as a prime example of the fifth estate, today they filter–censor–content. I know several individuals that’ve been “locked up” (denied the ability to post) because of what they’ve attempted to post. Indications are this will increase. Whether human or algorithmic, Facebook has gatekeepers which places them in the fourth estate.

Using the Fifth Estate

It’s yours. Jump in.

Subject to hate speech and inciting-a-riot limitations, you can Tweet what you want. (Trump does. So can you.)

Start a free blog. If you don’t know where, Google “free blog providers.” Not sure which to choose? Try one and, if you don’t like it, move on. (I will venture a guess there are more dead and abandoned blogs than live ones. My flat5.net blog is less spry than it used to be but, like me, it ain’t dead yet.)

If you want to publish a book, you don’t have to use any of those big five listed above. Go the e-publish route: see Kindle and Amazon. But there are limitations–gatekeepers of a sort.

So, hawk your book on your own. Self-publish it, whether ink on paper or electronic, and then start getting the word out. Tweet it. Facebook it. Blog it. You’ll need a place to house the book but that could be on your computer at home. How do readers get a copy? Simple: Have them email a request to you–publish your email address–and send them a reply with the PDF (or Word, or plain text) attached.

The Future of the World

How this will play out over the next century is anyone’s guess. What’s happening with Facebook may be a harbinger of things to come for all the social media providers. And, at some point, the rules could change for everyone.

That’s already the situation–note present tense–in China. Beijing decides what goes on the Internet in that country and the Chinese social media giant, renren.com, is reported to be far more tightly controlled than our Facebook.

But until–if and when–that happens, the fifth estate is wide open.

Take the Fifth, and Use It

Do you dislike something the President has said or done? Are you convinced the House of Representatives is filled with idiots? Does Nancy Pelosi get your goat? Has your local newspaper defected to a single side of the political divide? Are you convinced CNN is the devil’s puppet?

Then take the fifth, and use it: the fifth estate. There’s no gatekeeper. (Of course, you’ll want to toe the line in certain areas. Libel, hate speech, and inciting a riot are illegal.)

Publish it yourself. Tweet it. Blog it. E-distribute it. Print your own and hand them out on the street corner. (I self-published an early edition of a novel. I used lulu.com for the printing and, with the color cover I designed myself, for a very small run of less than fifty copies, they cost me a little over four bucks each.)

Each estate has changed the world. Kings did it. The church did it. The masses did it. The printing press did it.

And now you can to.

So, what’s your beef?

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