We can trace social networks back to the beginning of
society. Social networks are formed by groups of people interacting with each
other and grow when such groups inter-connect. These connections may be through
work, shared interests or having mutual friends. The internet brought to us
online social networking websites (also referred to as social media), which
have revolutionised the way we communicate. We are no longer required to phone
or meet up with our friends to stay informed of their activities. We can simply
log into our chosen social media such as Facebook or Instagram and be informed
of our friends’ activities.
Social networking websites are driving social interaction
and collaboration today. Almost all of them are free to use and only require an
email address to sign up. When a user first creates an account on Facebook for
instance, they can enter as much or as little of their details to their “profile”;
which is viewed by other users. Similarly, they can choose whom to befriend online
and who can view their posts and photos. Other social media websites such as Instagram
and Snapchat allow users to upload photos which can then be viewed by other
users. Youtube allows users to upload videos that can be viewed by everyone or to
keep it private, so it can only be viewed by those with the link to it.
Impact on society
Social media has undoubtedly changed our world today. It
has removed communication barriers; allowing people to come together to stay
connected, exchange ideas, offer criticism and form campaign groups. Social
networking websites have played a crucial role in many events in recent history
– from the US presidential elections and Brexit to the #metoo campaign
highlighting the extent of sexual harassment rife in the world. Social media websites,
particularly Twitter, are now the platform for breaking news; keeping users informed
of events across the globe in real time.
The rise in social media websites has not been without drawbacks.
Security and privacy are two of the most critical issues surrounding social
media. Users share snippets of personal information through posts, photos and
profile descriptions; which can be lethal in the wrong hands. Identity theft
and online financial scams have increased in the recent past as criminals scour
social media for personal information. Security of users, particularly children
and older people, is at risk as they are often unable to distinguish between
real and fake accounts; thus, becoming vulnerable to crime. There are various
health concerns too, as the prolific use of social media, especially in
children is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.
(Rsph.org.uk, 2018) For instance, Ofcom’s 2017 report on children’s media use
states that 50% of 11 and 12-year-olds have a social media profile despite most
platforms’ minimum age being 13.
News, 2017) The report goes on to say that more parents today are worried about
their children’s media use than in 2016. (Ofcom, 2017)
Impact on business
Social media has had a massive effect on businesses. Companies
can now target consumers with specific advertisements based on their
circumstances and needs. boyd and Ellison (2007, p.275) discuss how “participation
on social network sites leaves online traces and offers unprecedented
opportunities for researchers.”