Social Media's Impact on Societal Issues


1 Introduction of Social Media: Social Networking (Molly Sutherland & Sierra Moon)

Today, a large percentage of the population is connected in a new way, social networking. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram allow users to share pictures and other information with more people conveniently. Social networking reaches up to 82% of the internet’s population and accounts for 1 in every 5 minutes spent online (It’s a Social World, 2011). From “hashtags” to counting “shares” and “likes,” for many, social networking is a central part of building relationships with others.

Social networking and our social media play such a large role in current societal issues that we see today like the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, the popular fundraiser for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and the high topic media coverage about ISIS. With all of the societal issues that we face in today’s society, social networking and the social media help to bring all the current topics to our knowledge. Current research defines social networking sites (SNS’s) “as a means to where individuals are able to communicate in any manner they deem fit with the on-line community” (Saini and Moon, 2013, p. 3). To further supplement our definition, we state that SNS’s allow individuals to communicate in creative ways and are based on the perception of both sender and receiver in the on-line realm (Saini and Moon, 2013).

SNS’s provides all of us with our overall awareness about our current societal issues and the three most popular SNS’s in today’s society are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Facebook has secured its foreseeable future by developing itself with the times (Saini and Moon, 2013).  On Facebook on an average day, 15% of Facebook users update their own status (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011). Twitter has also taken our current SNS users by storm by allowing many individuals to express their concerns and thoughts about societal issues with only 140 characters permitted. Instagram has allowed its users to share photos quickly, instantly allowing all of its users to share photos that, often times, can contribute to the awareness of our societal issues more quickly in today’s society rather than waiting for pictures from a popular news story. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all largely responsible for the social awareness and change for all of our business, personal, and public societal issues that we face every day.

2 Facebook and Social Connections (Hannah Sowers & Shelia Talbott)

Created as a social networking tool for the Harvard community in 2004 by Mark Zuckerbug, Facebook has evolved to become one of the largest social networking sites with visits by over 400 million people each month. (Carlson, 2010)^ ^  With the growth in visitation, Facebook has become a powerful tool for organization and coordination of groups desiring social change.  One example can be seen in Tunisia during the Arab Spring uprisings.  In 2008, less than 30,000 Tunisians were on Facebook.  By the time of the uprising in December 2010, there was almost 2 million or 1/5^th^ of Tunisia’s population.  During the uprising, video, pictures, and location of the protests were posted online.  One Tunisian citizen has called Facebook the “GPS for this revolution” indicating that it provided the direction for the uprising. (Rosen, 2011)

Facebook has also been used as an instrument for communication within US politics.  In 2012, President Barak Obama demonstrated the power of organization with Facebook during his reelection campaign.  By linking his campaign website to Facebook and requiring users to login using their Facebook credentials, the Obama campaign was able to construct a database that they then used to target potential voters with information and to solicit donations. (Pilkington, 2012)

In 2009, in response to President Barak Obama’s mortgage relief plan, a CNBC commentator referenced the Boston Tea Party of 1773.  From that sprung a political activist group that became known as the Tea Party.  Within weeks, Tea Party chapters sprung up across the United States with protests and meetings being organized through Facebook.  By use of Facebook, the Tea Party was able to have a strong influence during the 2010 mid-term election with the Republican candidates winning 60 seats in the House of representative. (Ray, 2014)

3 Twitter: The Power of the @ (Genesis Webb)

There are so many ways to communicate what is going on in our world. Another popular social media website that has changed the way many people communicate is Twitter. This website allows for a quick and constant communication with a small limitation on how much you can say. 140 characters to be exact is the limit individuals have to post in each separate tweet and with the ability to do this repeatedly, information can be spread rapidly to millions of users in a short period of time.

Twitter was founded in March of 2006 by Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, all with similar ideas to provide a free and quick way to send messages to individuals all over the world. (Johnson, 2013)  Twitter is much more than just your friends telling you about their day. It has changed the media, politics and business. Twitter, which primarily serves as a social purpose has continued to evolve.

One example of the impact Twitter had on society can be seen by the riots in Ferguson. On August 19, 2014, an unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. On the day of the shooting, approximately 146,000 posts related to the shooting were published to Twitter.  It was not until August 21, 2014 that traditional media outlets began publishing stories on the shooting. (Miners, 2014). Protests were literally formed across the world from a trending topic initiated on twitter. The first protests were held the evening of August 20, organized predominately by a trending topic on Twitter.  This would begin 12 days and nights of unrest, riots and protests mostly fueled by social media including Twitter.  Five days after the event, there were over 3.7 million tweets related to the event.  (Miners, 2014)  

Unlike while listening to the radio, watching television, or seeing it in the newspaper, breaking news on Twitter is able to be discussed the moment it happens. “Social media is breaking the news first, and it’s just as often part of the story, touching our lives and shaping our memories.” (Mason, 2012)

4  A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: Instagram (Margaret Ramos)

On October 6^th^, 2010 Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger launched Instagram as a simple photo-sharing application. Within the first week, Instagram reached 100,000 users and continues to be one of the 10 most downloaded applications. In 2012, Instagram had less than 22 million users, when it was bought for close to \$1 billion, by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg. Now there are close to around 200 million users, who share 60 million photos a day.  Instagram has led to a new social experience, a visual type of communication (Hempel, 2014).

Instagram users can use their smart phones and upload pictures and even 15 second video clips.  Instagram users, who have set their privacy settings to public, can add hash tags to photos and videos, so that the photos or video clips will be visible on the public search engine (Instagram Help Center, 2014). Often times Instagram users are present at major events or during a catastrophe and can share what they saw with the public. In 2013, *The Chicago Sun-Times *fired all of the paper’s photographers. The newspaper decided that journalists could be trained to use Instagram editing tools on the iPhone to take pictures when on assignments (Hempel, 2014). The pictures could be uploaded to different social feeds immediately instead of the public having to wait on televised news reports.

A negative aspect of sharing news on Instagram is that terrorist and militias are also learning how to use this visual communication to recruit supporters. For example, in 2014 the radical Islamic militia ISIS had many Instagram accounts to broadcast propaganda, mock Iraq’s President Nuri al-Malaki and to showcase the masked ISIS fighters brandishing Kalashnikovs. Instagram worked quickly to remove these accounts (Finn, 2014).

5 Social Media’s Negative Impact (William Penley & Suzanne Weber)

There are several negative impacts that social media has created in society. These negative impacts include, cyber-bullying, relaying false information, and the coordination of terrorist groups.  

Adolescents in the United States culture are moving from using the Internet as an “extra” in everyday communication, to using it as a primary and necessary mode of communication (Nixon, 2014). An issue that can arise from the use of social media is cyber-bullying. In general, cyber-bullying involves hurting someone else using information and communication technologies, in fact, 95% of adolescents are connected to the Internet (Nixon, 2014).

Another negative impact of social media is the relaying of false information.   “The World Economic Forum, in its 2013 report, has listed the massive digital misinformation as one of the main risks for the modern society” (Mocanu, 2014).  The result of misinformation can be seen in the way some people reject the link between HIV and AIDS because of the false belief spread by social media that the virus was created as a way for the US government to control the African American population.  Because of the rapidity of the spread of information, it is sometime difficult to discern fact from fiction.

Sharing news on social media websites such as Instagram has led to negative impacts in society. Terrorist and militia groups are also learning how to use visual communication on Instagram to recruit supporters. For an example, in 2014 the radical Islamic militia ISIS had many Instagram accounts to broadcast propaganda, mock Iraq’s President Nuri al-Malaki and to showcase the masked ISIS fighters brandishing Kalashnikovs. Instagram worked quickly to remove these accounts (Finn, 2014).

6 Social Media’s Positive Impact (Christina Clark)

Although social media has its downfalls, there are several positive impacts that social media has created in the past decade. These positive impacts includes allowing individuals to keep in touch with loved ones all around the world, keeping individuals up to date with the latest news, helping law enforcement catch criminals, and even helping teenagers adjust and increase their self-esteem.

Before social media, the typical ways of communicating with loved ones who were not nearby were by telephone or through handwritten letters. With social media bringing individuals closer together, we are able to communicate within an instant to individuals all across the world. This has significantly impacted our military and their families in a positive way when they are deployed overseas. With the use of social media they are able to keep in contact with their families on a daily basis. (Chalmers, 2012)

Since September 11^th^ 2001, keeping up to date with the latest news has become increasingly important. Since the introduction of social media into our society “over 50% of people learn about breaking news on social media.” (Social Networking, 2014) In 2012, individuals on social media were notified of the shootings at the local movie theatre in Aurora, CO before local news outlets could report it themselves. (Social Networking, 2014)

Not only has social media had a positive impact in regards to keeping connected with distant family and friends but it has also encouraged teenagers to connect and has also impacted their self-esteem.  In 2012, the Washington Post reported that “One in five said using social-networking sites make them feel more confident, popular and sympathetic to others.” (Kang, 2012) By using social media, teenagers are able to establish relationships and maintain relationships that help increase their self-esteem.

7 References

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