What is the Fifth Estate? - Definition & Media

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over a term going around nowadays known as the Fifth Estate. You'll learn what it is and what it entails with respect to modern policy settings.

The Four Estates

With respect to modern politics, there is a term known as the four estates. It is used to denote the spheres of influence over modern policy making. And these spheres of influence are:

1. The executive branch. Think: the president, governor, or mayor.

2. The legislative branch. In the U.S. that would be the U.S. Congress or state legislative bodies.

3. The judicial branch. This includes the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts

4. The mass/traditional media

But for a long time there have been murmurings of a fifth estate, an alternative sphere of influence, another component of society that influences policy making. What is this?

Let's find out.

The Fifth Estate

In a very short definition, we can define the fifth estate in today's view of the term as non-traditional media. That is to say, anything but the big boys like the New York Times, CNN, FOX News, Time Magazine, and so on. Those guys have their own interests in policy-making and may be in cahoots with other estates or just have their own political leanings that run counter to your own.

Alternative Media

If Airbnb decentralized hotels and let the common folk easily become home owners, and Uber decentralized taxis and let anyone earn a living driving without licensing headaches, then the fifth estate represents the decentralization of the media. It is allowing anyone, you included, to become a powerful voice in shaping policy decisions without having to depend on the mass media. That is the fifth estate.

What is 'it' though? What is this medium that allows you to do this? Well, it's the internet and the add-ons, so to speak, of the internet. These add-ons include websites and hosting services that allow you to easily create a website or blog of your own. It is social media where your voice can be heard, including Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. It is file sharing websites and technologies that allow for the sharing of knowledge freely and without constraints from big publishers or governments.

For the latter, a good example of this is WikiLeaks, a website that purports itself to be a free and independent way by which to expose the corrupt secrets of powerful people or nations, although this organization has its clear biases and limitations nevertheless.

But that's kind of the point. The fifth estate is not some ideal mechanism by which to share and expose truth or shape policy. Just like the fourth estate, the media, biases and corruption and FAKE NEWS are bound to arise. The only difference between the fourth estate and fifth estate isn't idealism, pragmatism, or truth. It's that anyone can become an influencer, so to speak. It doesn't have to be a famous newscaster. Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite leading the nation in terms of whom to believe. It's each man for himself, so to speak, more so nowadays.

Moreover, the lines between the estates can often be blurred. For instance, you are well aware that traditional news media (the fourth estate) has political leanings of its own. FOX News, for example, leans heavily conservative in what they report and how they report it. So the line between the executive branch (if conservative) and some traditional media is often blurred.

The same goes for the fifth estate nowadays. A great example of this is Donald Trump (the first estate) who uses the fifth estate, namely social media/Twitter, to push his own viewpoints that he believes the fourth estate isn't doing a good job of doing.

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