Although the Internet has been around since the mid, 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that social networking websites began to take a firm hold. The term social media has essentially become ubiquitous with our generation, which has recently been dubbed ‘Generation Y.’ A recently conducted Pew study cited shows that a whopping eighty nine percent of eighteen to twenty nine year olds use some form of social media (Brenner). At the head of this charge is the social media giant Facebook, which reports that approximately 1.15 billion users access the website monthly. Whether you choose to accept it or not, the inevitable fact is that social media is quickly engulfing the online landscape, and changing the social dynamics of communication within our culture.
At its best, social media has a variety of uses that can positively benefit society as a whole. The main objective of any social media website is to allow users to maintain contact with other users, or allow users to meet others in order to create and maintain new connections. This primary function of social media is very beneficial, and is how I personally choose to use social media. However, I use social media websites differently depending on my audience. On Facebook, my audience is predominantly fellow high school graduates as well as family. I limit my communication on Facebook to posting statuses regarding important, personal life events and checking up on everyone. On the other hand, I also have a twitter account that I limit to only my friends. My followers are comprised of a few close friends from high school, as well as friends I have made at Grand Valley. I use Twitter a lot more frequently, and post about things in my day-to-day life and issues relevant to other Grand Valley Students. I also follow trending topics that apply to me, and through these trends I have discovered breaking news as it happened, and found tons of new music.
However, not everything about social media is beneficial. Social media sites, such as Reddit, in particular, often fall victim to the faults of “crowdsourced information.” Crowdsourced information is data provided by users of social media sites, and at its best, spreads beneficial news quickly and helps promote a story. At its worst, other users can use it to turn an individuals world upside down, something I personally witnessed shortly after the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing. Shortly after the Boston bombings, a user from the social media giant Reddit opened a thread discussing the appearance of the Boston bombing suspect #2, later revealed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The thread looked to users to supply information regarding the suspect, essentially creating an internet witchhunt. The thread proved to be less than beneficial. Instead of finding the actual suspect, users identified a man by the name of Sunil Tripathi as the boston bombing suspect #2, and compared their facial features in a side by side ‘picstitch.’ The community then used this crowdsourced information to assume that suspect #2 and Tripathi were one in the same. This lead to police involvement as news outlets reported that suspect #2 had been positively identified. Unknown to the Reddit community, Tripathi had passed away prior to the incident and was evidently not Suspect #2.
Its instances like these that occur every day on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but to significantly less extremes. These sites often host and promote rumors and false information. After all, how many times have we all seen those shared Photoshop pictures that convince people to believe that something is or is not of importance?
Although there are both pros and cons to social media, it is important to keep in mind that these websites as a whole have helped the Internet advance. To the dedicated user, a world of information is just waiting to be discovered behind the login screen.
Brenner, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx
Bort, J. (2013, September 11). Mark zuckerberg to connect the world. Business Insider, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-to-connect-the-world-2013-9