When we speak of ‘estates’, we’re referring to the societal structure of the Middle Ages. That structure was broken down into three distinctive groups… the clergy (1st), the nobility (2nd), and the peasantry (3rd). In the United States, we sometimes refer to the press as the ‘fourth estate’, alongside our version of the first, second, and third estates (executive, legislative, and judicial branches). The role of the press, as it pertains to our system of government, is to provide a ‘check’ on the other three estates. The fourth estate functions as a watchdog, so to speak, and plays a very important role in keeping an open society informed.
Since the 1960’s, another estate has existed that encompasses the ideas of the counter-culture movement. Where once this counter-culture movement had little voice outside their respective communities, the advent of social media has given this group access to a worldwide audience.
The fifth estate, which are filled with conspiracy theorists/social bloggers and similar fringe media outlet types, attempts to persuade others on social platforms by using half-truths and innuendo. Until the last twelve years or so, this has been only a minor problem.
The American public is used to mainstream media (the 4th estate) being politically biased in their coverage of the news. But now the American public is bombarded with biased news reporting and a plethora of conspiracy theories pushed by both the 4th and 5th estate. This has blurred the lines as to what is truly factual vs merely conjecture.
Many people rarely read beyond the headlines or listen to more than snippets of soundbites. Their views and opinions are shaped by purposely skewed information and their own confirmation biases. Ultimately, this has the negative effect in producing an uninformed and easily manipulated electorate.