At its core, social media is an online networking community that offers individuals a vehicle that through which they can connect with one another. Such media places at its users’ disposal a platform in which they are able to publicly share personal photos and/or opinions; exchange information; share stories. Perhaps most importantly, social media allows individuals the opportunity to globally interact with one another.
In a very limited period of time –only a decade or so –social media has managed to completely transform the landscape in which society currently functions. It has become such an important facet of everyday culture, so massively influential, that it has even proven to have the ability to change the course of politics. An example of that was how the 2011 Egyptian revolution was first ignited: social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter allowed Egyptians to stay connected and share information during the political uprising, with not only each other but also to other such outlets. Because valuable information was being exchanged on such public forums, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s declined to seek reelection.
The basic difference between social media and other non-social media forums and outlets is that in the former the user has control of what he or she posts, while in the latter, he or she does not. Social media allows an individual the opportunity to expose and/or draw attention to certain aspects of society to which the majority of the public may have never been.
For example, a recording on a cell phone of an officer performing a heroic act or abusing their power of authority can now be uploaded and virally shared on a global scale in nano seconds. Because of this ability, everyday citizens, in a way, have now become the new journalists, redefining the rules and regulations of how stories or information is gathered and, in an instant, publicly shared. There is a certain authenticity in social media that is rarely found in other non-social media forums where carefully monitored networks, pressured to appeal to both advertisers and specific demographics, ultimately results in selective reporting.
However, it seems as though such authenticity in social media become blurred once these forums transition into marketable, income producing companies, such as Facebook and it’s most recent purchase of Instagram. Facebook now is marketing to stockholders, investors and advertisers and, because of this new focus, the company has on multiple occasions, been scrutinized for selling their users private information to companies and potential advertisers. A result of this is that, while users still are able to control what content they choose to post, their information, however, is no longer their own. It belongs to the internet.
Social media has been proven to be extremely lucrative for a wide range of business and corporations, for not only does it offer businesses the opportunity to market and advertise on these major social media forums, it also offers invaluable insight on the public interest. There is also an element of how social media is able to communicate with certain business when sites such as Yelp offer users the platform to publicly “voice” an opinion on a restaurant. Yelp has been hugely influential in determining the level of success that a restaurant may or may not have. Because of this, there have been reports on restaurants hiring people to write positive reviews, hoping to attract potential customers. And again, this is where the positive aspects of social media once again get blurred; when financial motives begin to tamper with the authenticity of “information sharing,” the very essence of social media.
A side effect of social media that has to be addressed in any discussion of its effects is the lack of privacy that is the inevitable result of its ever-increasing popularity and influence. Any individual with a cell phone can record other individual’s activities in a public place, and subsequently post the photos or video on Facebook. Careers and reputations can and are destroyed in a few seconds- a drunken act; an unflattering pose; an ill-conceived comment- all those can determine impressions of a person. Individuals and corporations as diverse as human resource departments and college admission officers have been known to search social media to investigate a potential employee or student’s desirability. It is important to note that anything posted on the internet- whether on Facebook, Instagram, or other like social media- stays there forever. As is the case with marriage (it is much easier to get into than to get out of) it is much easier to post than to remove.
As is the case with other technological advances (cable news; Kindle; digital photography, etc.), social media has both positive and negative features to it. For example, on the positive side, it allows users to connect with family and friends; on the negative, any sense of privacy is gone. Individuals must grow used to the fact that nothing is private anymore and that they can and are being filmed at any and all moments. That transparency, however, can be used to positive ends. Social media can be a double-edged sword. Individuals who use it must keep this in mind.