The popularity of social networking sites has been rising lately (Ennis). Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube have been attracting hundreds of millions of subscribers while at the same time earning millions of dollars from advertisements every month (Griffith & Tengnah). Subscribers of these social sites range from politicians, companies, sports personalities and people from all works of life. The advancement of such sites has facilitated easy and cheap communication from all corners of the world. It is not uncommon to find fans of personalities such as Floyd Mayweather, Kim Kardashian or even supporters of President Barack Obama being up to date with their movements simply by ‘following’ them on Twitter or by ‘liking’ them on Facebook. This paper analyzes how these social sites have affected people’s lives and how seemingly no one can ignore them, the different types of communication in the social media, the different ideas of Facebook and other aspects of social media.
How Social Media is part of Everyone’s life
Most people with internet access cannot run away from the social media. In the United Kingdom alone, there are more than 25 million adult Facebook users (Griffith & Tengnah). This is almost a half of the total UK population. Considering the fact that there are other similar sites such as Twitter, Badoo, Google +, MySpace, it can be concluded that there are many more social media users. Additionally, an average Facebook subscriber has about 130 friends. As for Twitter, a subscriber has an average of 300 followers. This simply suggests that almost every adult user has some experience in social media. Using the UK statistic, we can rightly guess that the scenario is the same in almost all countries, bearing in mind that all countries have access to the internet.
The social media bug has bitten almost all professionals and people of all age groups. While the social media was mostly reserved for the youth, it is not uncommon to find old people subscribing to the social sites. Studies have shown that the social networking sites reduce loneliness during old age (Ballantine et al). Therefore, the old people have been encouraged to subscribe to be entertained rather aging gracefully in boredom. This simply means that more and more old people will take up social networking. As a result, the sites will not be a platform for the youth but all age groups. This in essence will ensure that social networking becomes part and parcel of almost everyone’s life regardless of their age.
The social media is not only a networking tool but a good source of information. Many patients use the sites to find information about their conditions. It was also revealed that about a third of patients use the social sites to find and connect with fellow sufferers. They later then discuss about their conditions more openly how to manage it (Griffith & Tengnah). In the UK alone, there are more than 355000 nurses and midwifes who use Facebook. This means that they can interact with their clients outside the confines of health institutions. Many professionals and politicians nowadays use the social media to interact with their clients and supporters respectively. In fact, it can be said that President Obama’s popularity was enhanced by his prowess in incorporating the social media during his campaigns. Many politicians have followed suit (Powell). This simply means that the social media will continue to play an important role in the lives of many professionals.
Types of Communication in Social Media
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have always encouraged their subscribers to come up with an online persona. He/she then builds a personal network of friends that connects to an open worldwide community (Griffith & Tengnah). Information is now shared freely between the two. These parties can communicate either publicly (writing on ‘walls’) or via the more discrete personal messages.
Apart from connecting to a network of friends, a subscriber can join community groups with a specific interest. Here, the subscribers discuss different issues touching on that interest. More often than not, events are created where physical meetings are arranged. Briggs found out that an average Facebook user is connected to around 80 community groups (Griffith &Tengnah). Most of these groups encourage the subscribers to give suggestions on how they should be run and to engage in debates. They also provide a social forum for members to interact amongst each other and with the leaders of the groups.
There are other social sites like YouTube that give users a platform to upload and share videos. Here, users post videos of themselves for other users to view. YouTube has been a great platform for musicians and film producers as their fans can easily access their music videos. Other social sites like MySpace have also given users the platform to post videos on their profiles. Such sites enable easy access to a variety of videos like music, sports, documentaries and movies.
People nowadays can have ‘phone conversations’ over their computers. This has been enabled by the development of social sites such as Skype. Here, people that are connected will communicate by word of mouth. This is unlike Facebook and Twitter where the mode of communication is by writing.
Most of the social sites have now incorporated webcams for their subscribers. Webcams enables ‘friends’ to have a one on one conversation while at the same time watching each other. This communication is more private and very effective as subscribers get to see each other. There has really been an increase in popularity in webcam conversations.
The social networking sites have been growing in popularity in the past few years. However, there are different kinds of users who have peculiar online identities. This section will profile some of these identities. There are four main types of users in social networking sites; introverts, novel, versatile and expert communicators (Del-Amo, et al., 2011).
The introvert users form the smallest group of social networking sites users at about 18%. Introverts are the least active users and use the sites chiefly to send private messages as well as updating their profiles once in a while. Men of over 45 years old make up the largest percentage of introvert users. Most of these users will use the sites less than one hour per week and have less than fifty friends. However, it can be said that most of the introverts may be maintaining offline communication with their friends and more often than not, they were just invited. Introvert users subscribe mostly to one social site (Del-Amo, et al., 2011).
The novel users constitute about a quarter of the total social site users. This type of groups are more active; they always comment on photos, send both private and public messages to their friends as well as commenting on friends’ statuses and updating their profiles. Novel users are always curious about their interests and people. A majority of them are women below 30 years and spend between one and five hours per week on the sites. Most of them have more than 50 friends and maintain profiles in two social networking sites. The sites act as entertainment and a platform to keep in touch with their friends (Del-Amo, et al., 2011).
The versatile users form the largest social networking sites users, about 36 % of the total users. These type of users perform almost all types of activities in the sites; comment on photos, send both private and public messages, comment on their idols’ and friends’ activities, pass across ideas and reflections, regularly update their profiles and are always willing to share photos and web links. The versatile users always share interesting information with their friends, their activities and are not afraid to share their thoughts as well as browsing other users’ profiles. However, these users will occasionally download games and other applications on the social sites. A majority of versatile user are men who connect at least once per day spending a considerable time online. Most of them maintain more than two accounts across all the sites with both private and public profiles. Versatile users maintain contacts more than one hundred and have a high possibility of having friends they have never met physically. For this group also, staying in touch with friends and entertainment are the main reasons that they joined the social sites. However, a large number of them make professional contacts with their counterparts (Del-Amo, et al., 2011).
Expert communicators form about a fifth of the social networking users and are the most active users. This type of users is a more active version of versatile users. A majority of them are young women and have a lot of experience in social networking, spending almost five hours per day. More often than not, they maintain private accounts in more than two sites and have the highest number of contacts. Apart from deriving entertainment in the sites and being in touch with friends, they also find this as a platform to be informed about social events, parties, new products and also maintain contact with friends they don’t have a direct relationship as well as making new friends (Del-Amo, et al., 2011).
Online Identity versus Real Identity
The social networking sites have offered many people a platform to get in touch with their friends as well as making new friends. Other sites such as YouTube have enabled musicians, film producers and the public to post their videos for the world wide audience. However, while the sites had a noble cause, there are many users who misuse these fora. It is not uncommon to find users maintaining a very different online presence from his/her real self. This section analyzes such instances.
The social networking sites have always encouraged subscribers to upload their photos. However, this freedom has been misused. Due to having subscribers running into hundreds of millions, sites such as Facebook and Twitter have had users uploading pornographic photos in their accounts. Usually, the sites use other users’ reports before such photos are deleted which more often than not takes time. However, the users who post these photos may not be in the pornographic industry themselves. Therefore, two identities are created; an erotic/adult online identity and probably a respectful real self who just used his/her anonymity to post the photos. Many people have come to know that they cannot be held accountable for such acts as well as the private nature of the sites makes users to post almost anything.
Since there is a free choice of names, there are many cases where users take on names of popular personalities which they use as their online identity. In some cases, the names used are different from the real user. In such a case, two identities also emerge; a prominent person impersonator versus a real self who may not be even related in any way to the prominent person. There are many cases where prominent personalities have cried foul after an impersonator posted inappropriate information. Again, it is the freedom and privacy of the sites that contributes greatly to such cases.
Bullying involves when a powerful person intentionally harms a less powerful person frequently. But with advances of technology, bullying has shifted from the physical harassment to the cyberspace. Cyberbullying is defined as bullying that occurs through information and communication technology mediums like cell phones or internet are used to send texts or messages intended to embarrass or hurt the other person. A study that explored cyberbullying showed that a significant number of students in grade 6-11 are especially involved in cyberbullying. The report also reported that girls are more likely to be targets of cyberbullying than boys. Cyberbullying has been recently recognized as a new era of bullying also using such different names as online bullying or cyber-harassment. Some specific example of cyberbullying is when a person threatens another online or when a person sends another unwanted sexual message (Wade and Beran, 2011).
According to Williams and Godfrey (Oct 2011), cyberbullying presents a new kind of problem due to its nature of behavior that it takes place through the internet or through the phone. Cyberbullying has been that worse that it has caused harmful consequences to its victims including even suicide or homicide. The report recognizes that although all of us are at risk of cyberbullying, adolescents are more venerable because they have many more social problems struggling with developmental issues while trying to discover a social system that is especially online. Shocking result from the U.S. indicate that as of May 2010, 75 percent of children aged 12-17 years own a cell phone while 93 percent of these teenagers use the internet to interact with friends. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that social media websites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others continue to increase their popularity. The Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that the number of cyberbullying victims has increased from 18.8 percent in 2004 to 40.6 percent in 2010. According to research, cyberbullying is associated with mental health problems. Adolescents’ brains are not fully developed and they are unable to deal with risk behaviors leading them to share private information. Research shows that these children can develop depression, loneliness, low-self esteem or social anxiety. Cyberbullying is also linked to physical health and psychosomatic symptoms.
How News Have Change through Social Media
Social media has caused a revolution to how news is reported. Social media has enabled a real-time information stream especially for international news junkies. Major news providers (like CNN, BBC) have been transformed by advent of technology while social media has changed the landscape totally. Social media have enabled information on a 24 hour basis as news unfolds available on mobile phones or through a computer. The big news channels have been plunged into the world of social media and its potential as a new tool able to engage the audience as well as using it to distribute news (Hounshell, 2011). News channels like BBC, Sky, al-Jazeera and CNN have their presence in the social media sites which have facilitated faster news movement. Social media has helped in news gathering, engaging the audience and a platform for journalists’ content.
The rise and popularity of social media has resulted into revolutions in different aspects of our lives. Social media sites such as Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and many more other have totally altered our social life either positively or negatively. Governments and policy makers should look into ways of ensuring that social media sites do not cause harm to its users or perpetrators of violence through social media are prosecuted.