For many years the media evolution – from print to radio, to TV and now online media – has continued to influence mass opinions and perceptions. However, the emergence of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has taken this very concept a step further – with some arguing that social media now shapes the opinions, perception and actions of the majority whose opinions were previously shaped by information from traditional and mainstream media houses.
Today’s web and the new media underpin the ability to create instant communication sensations. From Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a collection of blogs, a news statement can advance from zero to 20 million viewers overnight. The viral nature of this highly social user-driven environment enables complete strangers to connect over common beliefs, desires or interests and together create winners and losers.
In what we refer to as the ‘Information age’ or ‘Digital age’ our technological advancements in the area of ICT have help overcome limitations of time and space in communication, information sharing and networking. This not only affects how we connect with other people and how we do business, but also how we interact in the political sphere. In that context, social media can be considered as a potential tool for facilitating the social contract between citizens and the state.
For example, government can potentially use social media platforms to solicit feedback on its policies and political actions, while citizens can use the same platforms to express vent their anger, show frustration or express acceptance of whatever actions government is undertaking. Online tools and social media can open new avenues for participation. Social media platforms can help citizens explore new ways of cooperation and collective action; they can provide opportunities for mobilising people around a common cause, or for sensitising the public on specific issues. Unlike traditional media, social media is an open space – potentially giving every individual a means to directly reach out to the public.
The advancement of online content and social media has greatly expanded the variety of sources of information. Telling stories to the general public, providing crucial information and influencing perceptions is no longer a preserve of traditional media. The difference remains that social media, because of its unregulated nature can disseminate news without any filter or direct control, while traditional media houses still perform the function of an intermediary who filters, analyses and explains information before it goes public.
If we consider access to information and participatory engagement key features of democracy, then we can argue that the rise of Internet and social media can have a democratising effect on our modern societies. However, how strong is this democratising impact in reality? Does the availability of diverse information in the open space of the Internet enhance transparency and accountability? Or does the explosion of unfiltered information rather produce more confusion, populism, defamation and hate speech? Do we see a more informed and active citizenry? Or are we rather looking at a generation of ‘Slacktivists’ as some observers argue? Now, come along with me to evaluate this form of media.
What is Social Media?
Social refers to people interacting with each other by sharing information. Media refers to channels of communications, including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards and the Internet. So, if you put the meaning of these two separate terms together we get “Social Media, which are web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by both sharing and consuming information”(Source: MBN-2021).
Social media depend on web-based and mobile technology to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and other entities can share, discuss, create, co-create and modify user-generated content.
In other words, social media is Internet-based and gives users quick electronic communication of content such as personal information, documents, videos and photos. Users engage with social media via a computer, tablet or smartphone via web-based software or applications (Source: Investopedia).
Brief History of Social Media
Before social media, if you wanted to keep up with the news you had to walk down to the newsstand in the morning and buy a local edition reporting the events of the past week. Today, we get all the latest news and breaking stories online. The last thing many people do before they go to sleep is to scroll through their feeds – and it is probably the first thing before they rise out of the covers.
Social media dates back to the 24th of May, 1844 when the telegraph machine was invented. Samuel Morse sent a message from Baltimore to Washington D.C. The rise of social media began in 1969 when the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) emerged. This newly-emerged digital network allowed scientists from four known universities to interconnect and share their software, hardware and other resources with the ease of sitting at their offices.
In 1979, social media became more robust when NSF launched a vibrant, fast and more digital network -NSFNET. A decade later, the first true social media platform was launched. Due to the emergence of a faster and reliable Internet, a new path was paved by CompuServe, Prodigy and America online. These services introduced digital communication in its true essence to the users.
After that, in 1997, the early period of new social media networks started with the short spanned ‘six degrees’. Then began the uprising, enabling millions of users to register for email accounts and online chatting.
This was followed by the era of digitised social communication (Blogs), when in 1999, ‘Livejournal’ came into existence at its core – a publishing site. Along with its emergence came another blogging platform launched by Prya Labs, named ‘Blogger’, later purchased in 2003 by the tech-giant Google. In 2002, the real game began when LinkedIn was found solely to provide career-oriented users convenience. According to a report, it now has over 700 million active users worldwide.
Then came Myspace in 2003, which became the most visited website ever in 2006 and allowed the users to share music directly on their profiles. After two years, in 2008, Facebook eclipsed Myspace and became the first website to gain popularity in very little time. Google also elbowed its way in the social media landscape by launching Google + in 2012 (Sources: (i) Miami University & (ii) Dewzilla).
Here are some prominent social media platforms: Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Tiktok.
Characteristics of Social Media
Several characteristics make social media a unique communication tool. The key functions include:
- Users are Content Creators
People can create their own blogs, write a Facebook or Twitter post expressing their thoughts on an issue. They can post a video blog about their latest travel adventures on YouTube. This enables users to be active participants in the communication process. Audience are more engaged with brand messages because they can provide feedback to companies, creating a two-way conversation.
- Instant Communication
Audience do not have to wait until scheduled news broadcasts to receive information because reporters and media outlets can bring the news directly to social media platforms. Furthermore, people can easily share and posts news content on their networks. For example, in a matter of just a few seconds, you can create an online post and update your entire circle of friends regarding the new job you just started, including sharing a photo of yourself ensconced in your new office. Compare that to the much more tedious and time-consuming task of telephoning each one of your friends individually to share your news and having to repeat your ‘announcement’ over and over again, dozens of times.
- Communicate Information to Large Numbers of People
It fosters a sense of connectedness and community by bringing people across the globe together online. Those living in the United States can easily interact with those living in Australia.
- Ability to Create and Share Visuals
Whether they are simple ‘selfies’ or memes, the ability to share photos, videos, graphics and other visual content is hugely appealing to a vast number of people. Some social media sites, such as Pinterest (NYSE: PINS) and Instagram, are geared specifically for sharing photos and video content.
In contrast, Facebook – while it allows you to freely share visual content – is seen more as a site for sharing content such as thoughts, opinions or news stories that you’ve read, and engaging in group discussions of various topics.
- Ease of Access to the Platforms
Basically, anyone with either a computer or a cell-phone can readily access and use social media sites. Posted content is relatively uncensored – at least much less than, for example, content typically published in newspapers or magazine.
Social media encourages contributions and feedback from everyone who is interested. It blurs the line between media and audience.
Most media in the world are open to feedback and participation to all people in the world. They encourage users to vote, comment and share pictures, video and information.
- H. Conversation
Social media can be seen as a two-way conversation between two users or a group that includes many users who use the group to conduct a conversation. Conversation between users is not limited in conversation space only, the conversation can also be passed through the comments on the pictures or videos that are posted by the user. Conversation in social media can happen in three forms – in text, voice and video conversations.
Social media allows relationship between communities to be easily formed through mutual interest activities such as cycling, politics and favourite TV shows.
Statistics on Global Social Media as of October 2021
According to Kepios analysis, there were 4.55 billion social media users around the world as of October, 2021. This equates to 57.6% of the total global population.
Facebook remains the world’s most widely used social media platform, but now there are seven (7) social media platforms that claim more than one million monthly active users each. Four of these seven platforms are owned by Facebook. Based on publicly available data up to 17th October, 2021, at least 17 social media platforms have 300 million or more monthly active users. They include the world’s most used social media platforms, as shown on the chart below:
The details on the chart below also show key reasons for using social media as at October, 2021 according to Kepios data analysis:
Positive Effects of Social Media on Society
Social media is often condemned. However, it is a massive part of all our lives; such that it can no longer be ignored. As with everything, despite its bad side it is important to recognise that there are numerous aspects associated with it which impact positively on society. These include:
- Easy to Make Friends
One of the biggest positives of social media is that it has never been difficult to make friends. Just a few decades ago, it was pretty tough to connect with people unless you were the overly outgoing type – able to start a conversation with anyone and everyone at a party. It’s entirely possible to have hundreds of friends on Facebook. They may not be friends you spend time with in the real world, but they are friends nonetheless.
- Fosters Empathy
Each of us spends a little too long talking about ourselves on social media sites, which is perfectly natural. We are sharing our lives – the ups and downs, the twists and turns – with people we think care. They generally do care, and will tell you so. They will listen to what you have to say and help you deal with any problems you may be facing. If this is not the case, then you may want to find new friends.
- Allows for Speedy Communication
Our time is being stretched thinner and thinner by work and family commitments. On the other hand, social networking sites offer a chance to communicate in a speedy and efficient manner, especially when everyone involved is familiar with social media slang. Writing a tweet takes just 20 seconds, and with cross-posting to other social networks that are switched on, that update can reach everyone you want it to reach (and probably more) in an instant.
One of the reasons many people dislike making phone calls is the unnecessary banter they necessitate. You can’t just say what you want to say and then hang-up, because doing so is seen as rude. Instead, you have to swap pleasantries before saying what you want to say, and then swap more pleasantries before the conversation comes to a natural conclusion.
- Makes the World Seem Smaller (Global Village)
It isn’t only your inner circle of close friends and even closer family members that social networking sites allow you to communicate with easily and effectively. One of the good things about social media is its power to open the world up to you, making it a smaller place than it has ever been before.
Family members living abroad can be kept abreast with the latest happenings in your world as quickly as those living next door. Friends you haven’t seen since school, and who have since moved away, are able to keep in touch. Social networking sites mean someone’s physical location has become a lot less important.
- Helps Build Relationships
Social networks can put you (back) in touch with people with whom you have lots in common, and that common ground is often the starting point for long-lasting relationships.
- Facilitates Church Activities
Social media allows churches to connect with their members as well as people who may not attend church. Websites like Facebook offer a free, easy way to promote church events and strengthen your community outside of Sunday services.
It offers much more space for congregations to actively engage with sermons by tweeting along, asking questions, sharing photos of church activities or continuing discussions throughout the week, not just on Sundays.
- Helps News Travel Faster
New lines of communication have opened the world in a big way – especially when it comes to news, which can make its way around the world within seconds. Social media has taken this spread of news to the next level, with eyewitnesses being able to report on news stories as they happen. This means we no longer need to wait for news crew and journalists to be dispatched to the heart of the action.
Of course, some of you will be wondering whether this is actually a good thing based on how much fake news is spread online. However, social media sites are even tackling that problem, increasingly labelling misinformation and directing users to better sources.
- Enables a Common Ground to be Established
Social networking sites can help you find people you share interests with. Facebook for example, asks you to list who and what you are interested in right from the start. This makes it easy to find common ground with other users.
- Efficient Communication Tool for Students
Social media sites help students do better at school. Students use social media to discuss educational topics and talk about school assignments.
- Provides Platform for Academic Research
Social media provides academic research to a wider audience, allowing many people access to previously unavailable educational resources (e.g., information previously restricted to academia’s ‘ivory tower’ can now be shared with the public who do not have access to restricted journals or costly databases).
- Serve as a Tool or Instrument for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement uses social media to arrest and prosecute criminals. A survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 85% of police departments use social media to solve crimes.
- Increases a Person’s Quality of Life
Being part of a social media site can increase a person’s quality of life and reduce the risk of health problems (social media can help improve life satisfaction, stroke recovery, memory retention and overall well-being by providing users with a large social group).
- Facilitates Face-To-Face Interaction
People use social media to network at in-person events and get to know people before personal business and other meetings.
- Facilitates Political Change
Social media gives social movements a quick, no-cost method to organise, disseminate information and mobilise people.
- Dissemination of Health Information
Social media allows for quick, easy dissemination of public health and safety information from reputable sources (e.g., the WHO uses social media to disseminate health information and counter rumours).
- Platform for Senior Citizens
Social media helps senior citizens feel more connected to society (According to a 2015 Pew Research Centre Study, the 65 and older age group is one of the fastest-growing demographic groups on social media sites).
- Platform for Musicians and Artists to Build Audiences
Social media offers a way for musicians and artists to build audiences even if they don’t have a corporate contract (e.g., teenagers listen to music on YouTube, making it the ‘hit maker’ for songs rather than radio or CDs).
Positive Impact on Business
Social media can be a useful tool for businesses, bringing advantages such as engaging with your audience and boosting website traffic. Below are the detailed business benefits of social media:
- Brand Awareness
Compelling and relevant content will grab the attention of potential customers and increase brand visibility.
- Brand Reputation
You can respond instantly as ‘thought-leader’ or expert in your field. This can improve how your business is seen by your audience.
It can be cheaper than traditional advertisement and promotional activities. The costs of maintaining a social media presence are minimal. If you choose to invest in paid advertisement, you can spend as much or as little as your budget allows.
- Website Traffic
Social content can boost traffic on your website. This can lead to increased online conversation such as sales and leads.
It is easy to measure how much website traffic you receive from social media. You can set up tracking to determine how many sales are generated by paid social advertisement.
- Customer Interaction
You can deliver improved customer service, and respond effectively to feedback. Positive feedback is public and can be persuasive to other potential customers. Negative feedback highlights areas where you can improve.
- Target Audience
Customers can find you through the social media platforms they use most. You can choose to maintain a presence on particular platforms that are in line with your target audience. For example, if you are targetting young people, you can reach them through snapchat. If you are seeking business customers, LinkedIn may be the best channel.
- Brand Loyalty
You can build relationships with your customers through social media. This can help increase loyalty and advocacy.
Positive Impact on Economy
Our growing love of social media is not just changing the way we communicate. It’s changing the way we do business, the way we are governed and the way we live in society (Source: Global Agenda Council). Social media impact on the structure of an economy has been tremendous. The key benefits of social media on the economy are:
- Method of Marketing
The most obvious is the method of marketing that lies at the core of how social media platforms operate. Business people use social media as an effective marketing tool. Not only is social media an inexpensive method of advertising, but it also provides opportunities for businesses to offer their brands in a way that is transparent to their customers. Users of social media do not just advertise business brands, but also interact with customers and potential customers, since there is the need to hear whatever they to tell you and try to offer solutions to their problems. It allows customers to react to what brands offer without having to listen to any of the hype that has always been a part of traditional marketing; thus, customers can voice concerns and communicate their customer service issues.
- It is Changing How We Govern and Are Governed
Civil participation and engagement has been transformed with social media. “Social media allows citizens to be the source of ideas, plans and initiatives in an easier way than ever before” (SOURCE: Eileen Guo of Impassion Media). In the future we can expect more and more leaders to embrace this type of transparent governance, as it becomes easier for them to interact with their constituents.
“Whereas politicians and government officials once had to travel to interact with citizens, now online town halls strengthen the connections between them while providing a platform for direct input on government initiatives.” Before the dawn of social media, governments along with the traditional media were the gate-keepers of information (Source: Taylor Owen – University of British Colombia).
“This largely symbiotic relationship has been radically disrupted by the concurrent rise of digital technology and social media ecosystem that it enabled. Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the world of international affairs and conflict, where the rise of digitally native international actors has challenged the state dominance.” Wikileaks and the rise of the social media savvy terrorist organisation ISIS are just two examples of this shift in power, which will call for a complete rethink of the concept of governance.
- Shaping up Health Care and Public Health
The health industry is already using social media to change how it works, whether through public health campaigns or virtual doctor’s visits on Skype. It also helps groups of people, such as patients suffering from the same condition, to stay in touch. Social media has been responsible for relevant changes in both personal and community health, especially by making it easy for a large number of people to rapidly share information.
- An Instrument for Better Response to Disasters
Digital responders can immediately log-on when news breaks about a natural disaster or human-created catastrophe. Individuals and teams are activated based on skills, sets of volunteer and technical communities. These digital skills as well as their personal networks are an attempt to help mitigate information overload for formal humanitarian aid in the field.
- Helps Tackle Some of the World’s Biggest Challenges; from Human Rights Violations to Climate Change
This capacity for social media to bring together disparate but like-minded people is also helping fight another enormous challenge: climate change. Social media has become an important tool for providing a space and means for the public to participate in influencing or disallowing environmental decisions historically made by governments and corporations which affect us all. It has created a way for people to connect local environmental challenges and solutions to large-scale narratives that will affect us as a global community.
- Platforms Serve as Banks of the Future
Imagine being able to pay your rent or make an investment through your favourite social network. Social media is transforming banking relationships in very significant ways, from improving customer service to allowing users to send money to others via online platforms. New financial technology companies are using social media to help people open a bank account simply. Social media can even impact your ability to get a loan. However, the biggest challenge is maintaining security standards and ensuring customers knowingly provide personal information. Banks will also have to implement sophisticated social media policies.
- Civil-State Engagement
On the civil society front, social media has somewhat become the new platform for civic activism. From around the world there are reported events where political changes have taken place as a result of so-called ‘social media revolution’, such as during the events of what has been dubbed, the ‘Arab Spring’.
- Provides Opportunity for Political Leaders
Social media provide opportunities for political leaders to strengthen their interaction with the citizens. State and government institutions can, for instance, use online platforms to disseminate information and to solicit citizen’s input. Political communication has taken a new direction with the emergence of social media. Political parties and candidates can use social media to reach out to the public and to market themselves and their ideas, not just during campaign periods. It also improves accessibility as it allows citizens to reach out to political leaders through different channels.
- Effective Networking
Social media facilitates effective networking among the citizens and the creation of different forms of organisations and communities. It can mobilise citizens around a cause and can spur social political action. In addition, social media can provide avenues for more participatory inclusive and deliberative processes of decision-making.
Negative Effects on Society
It is necessary to learn that the negative effects of social media are both physical and mental. That can change your perception of the world and yourself. In spite of the positive effects of social media, it also has a lot in the drawback column on society as detailed below:
- Depression and Anxiety
Clearly, excessive social media usage leaves one prone to be at a high risk of depression, anxiety and ultimately stress. Several researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called ‘Facebook depression’ – depression that develops when individuals spend excessive amounts of time on social media sites such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.
One study, proving the link between depression and social media conducted by Dr. Joanne Davila. Lisa Starr and Stony Brook University researchers, discovered that in a sample group of teenage girls, excessive Facebook usage caused the sample group to be at high risk for depression and anxiety.
A new study, conducted by psychologist Dr. Mark Becker of Michigan University, found a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms among the group using social media and a 42% increase in social anxiety. Do you spend several hours per day browsing through social media? Spending so much time on social networking sites could be adversely affecting your mood. In fact, chronic users are more likely to report poor mental health, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Unhealthy Sleep Patterns
On top of increasing the incidents of anxiety and depression, spending too much time on social media can lead to poor sleep. Numerous studies have shown that increased use of social media has a negative effect on your sleep quality. This is especially the case when using your phone in bed at night.
It is true that social media has made life easy for humanity. But it also makes many of us alone. The immediacy of social networking is so tempting that many people get hooked to the devices to excess. As a result of such preoccupation, they are at risk of getting themselves isolated from the real world. They have a false sense of connectivity. Have you witnessed a group of friends getting together in one place but are barely speaking to one another?
Instead, everyone is busy attending to his own mobile device? Or have you yourself experienced being together with your family, but not feeling together? Isn’t it quite absurd? Actually, this is a common scenario that you can find everywhere you go. It is what we call a plugged-in life. The little device in our pockets has taken a powerful control over us. It has dramatically changed who we are and what we do, to the point that we feel inutile without our mobile phones.
Before social media, bullying was something that was only possible to do face-to-face. However, now people can bully others online – anonymously or not. Cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature (Source: Oxford Dictionary). While social media makes it easier to meet new people and make friends, it also enables cruel people to tear into others with little effort.
Perpetrators of bullying can use the anonymity that social networks provide to gain people’s trust and then terrorise them in front of their peers. For instance, they might create a fake profile and act friendly to a classmate then later betray and embarrass them online. These online attacks often leave deep mental scars, and even drive people to suicide in some cases.
Cyberbullying does not just affect kids. Adults can become victims of online abuse, too. Since screens hide our faces, you can end up being a jerk on social media and other websites without even realising it. The different social media platforms are available to both friends and predators. Since these platforms are easy to access, children, pre-teen and teenage users are prone to cyberbullying. They are the most vulnerable to attacks and threats. They may be subjected to direct attacks from another child or by proxy. Cyberbullying by proxy involves using another person, usually an adult, to cyberbully the victim.
- Cyber harassment
Cyber harassment on the other hand, involves an adult victim. Since you don’t see who you are chatting or connecting with, you could be dealing with unscrupulous people. These people usually use the information you post on social media against you.
- Unrealistic Expectations
Most social media sites have a severe lack of online authenticity. People use Snapchat to share their exciting adventures, post about how much they love their significant other on Facebook, and load up their Instagram page with heavily staged photos.
However, in reality you have no way of knowing whether this is all a farce. While it looks great on the surface, that person could be in massive debt, on bad terms with their significant other, and just desperate for Instagram likes as a form of validation. One simple way out of this mess is for everyone to quit lying on social media. However, in the era of Instagram influencers and YouTubers who can earn millions from being inauthentic, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
- Negative Body Image
Today, body image is not an issue for everyone. Of course, seeing so many people who are supposedly perfect (according to society’s standards) on a daily basis makes you conscious about how different you look from those pictures. It’s really important to remember that everybody is human. No one wakes up every day looking like a supermodel, and while many have gone to great lengths to train their bodies, that’s not the case for everyone who looks fit. Many people, in search of social media fame, have definitely taken unhealthy routes to appear more attractive.
While people focus so much time on social media networks, real life relationships begin to suffer. In doing this our more important relationship with our loved ones and close family members suffer because more of our time and effort is put into the illusion of social media.
The term ‘catfish’ describes people who create fake social networking profiles, and ‘catfishing’ is the process of befriending strangers online while using a fake or stolen identity. It is a deceptive act and it has ruined marriages, relationships and the emotional well-being of many people. The mind has a powerful way of weaving intricate narratives about reality when in love.
Study findings indicate that when shown pictures of their beloved, individuals have better pain-tolerance. Hence, one can start to understand the strong attachment that can be formed thousands of miles away through the exchange of repeated sentiments and promises of lifelong love with no more than a photo in hand.
- Human Relationships
Human relationships are messy and can sometimes be demanding. So we clean it up with technology. By doing this, we face the risk of sacrificing conversation for mere connection; and this might lead people to stop caring for one another altogether. Building casual relationships through social media diminishes our ability to foster meaningful relationships in the real world.
- Criminal Activities
Besides the emotional problems, the next major problem is the enabling of criminal activities through the use of social media. With the increased use of social media, malicious and irresponsible people benefit themselves of the freedom of social media platforms to lie, scam, attack and hurt others in a number of ways. Many criminals have taken advantage of social media to hide their identity and commit several crimes such as cyberbullying, cyber terrorism, human trafficking, drug dealing, etc. Gangs use the sites to recruit younger members, coordinate violent crimes and threaten other gangs.
- General Addiction
Spending countless hours on the social sites can divert the focus and attention from a particular task. It lowers the motivational levels of people and can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. It has a powerful draw for many people that leads to them checking it all the time without even thinking about it. If you are not sure whether you are addicted to social networks, try to remember the last time you went a full day without checking any social media accounts. Parents text and talk on their mobile devices or send emails at meal times, and children complain about not having their parents’ full attention. Students who are heavy social media users tend to have lower grades, since much concentration or attention is mostly on Facebook during class hours.
- Lack of Privacy
Social media lacks privacy and exposes users to government and corporate intrusions. Social media sites advertising practices may constitute an invasion of privacy. For example, from social media sites simple algorithms can determine where you live, sexual orientation, personality traits, signs of depression and alma mater among other information, even if users put none of those data on their social media profiles.
- Low Productivity
Social media harms employee’s productivity. A global online survey found that 50% of workers check or use social media at least once a day during working hours. According to the survey, even spending just 30 minutes a day on social media while at work would cost a 50-person company 6,500 hours of productivity a year.
- Spread of Unreliable and False Information
A University of Michigan study found that, even when false information is corrected, the number of people who see or share the correction via social media is lower than number people who saw or shared the false information in the first place.
- Promotes Sexting
‘Sexting’ is posting or sending sexually suggestive messages. Social media enables sexting and the unexpected proliferation of personal images, which can lead to criminal charges. A survey indicated that almost 40% of teens report sexting, with 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys posting nude or semi-nude photos. 88% of private self-produced sexual images posted on social media are stolen.
As a result, teens and adults are being charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, even when the teen took and distributed a photo of him/herself.
- Unauthorised Sharing
Unauthorised sharing on social media exposes artists to copyright infringement, loss of intellectual property and loss of income. According to Business Insider, “illegally uploaded videos routinely clock up tens of millions of views, and hundreds of thousands of shares” with profits going to those who shared the content rather than those who created it.
- Users are Vulnerable to Security Attacks
Social media users are vulnerable to security attacks such as hacking, identity theft and viruses. Social media sites do not scan messages for viruses or phishing scams, leading to large-scale problems like the virus spread from Facebook’s chat window.
- Posts Can’t Be Completely Deleted
Social media posts cannot be completely deleted, and all information posted can have unintended consequences. For example, Facebook can lead to and be used against someone in divorce proceedings because the information, once posted, can never be completely deleted.
Negative Effects on Business
In spite of the above-mentioned positive impact of social media on business, there are also key aspects that impact negatively. These include:
- Increased Customer Power
In the days before social media, negative company experiences might stay within an individual’s circle of friends; now, stories of bad customer service and disappointing products can run quickly through social media networks. It has become more difficult for companies to contain negative publicity.
- Tracking Negative or Misleading Statements
Social media is an enormous conversation everyone is invited to join. With all that, it’s difficult for businesses to track statements about their brand that are negative or even defamatory. With social media, you have the added burden of tracking statements and responding when necessary; the response, however, might be of limited effect if the negative statement has already made the social media rounds.
- Accidental Release of Confidential Information
Individuals with inside knowledge of a business might inadvertently blurt out confidential information, damaging the company’s competitive advantage. Before social media, a letter sent to the wrong address or even an email that ended up in the wrong inbox could be retrieved and the information kept under wraps. In the world of social media, the sheer numbers mean that once confidential information is out, it’s out.
- Unauthorised Employees Speaking on Company’s Behalf
It’s difficult for companies to monitor employee social media activity and prevent them from speaking on company matters without authorisation. In the era of engagement, you might strive for employees to have the ability to assert their personalities online; however, this freedom comes with the risk that even a well-meaning social media post about your company’s perceived objectives and direction can damage the company’s reputation or challenge the company’s assertions to investors.
A company needs to commit resources to managing its social media presence, responding to feedback and producing new content. This can include hiring and training staff, investing in paid advertisement and paying for the costs of creating video or image content.
While it is easy to quantify the return-on-investment in terms of online sales generated by social media advertising, there are some less tangible benefits. It can be hard to measure and place a monetary values on the brand awareness and reputation that social media can bring. It’s difficult to know how social media effects sales in-store.
- Ineffective Use
Social media can be used ineffectively. For example, using social media to push for sales without engaging with customers or failing to respond to negative feedback may damage your reputation.
Negative Impact on Economy
There is no doubt that economies have benefitted tremendously from the existence of social media. However, its negative consequences on an economy cannot be ignored. These include the following:
- Depressing Work Productivity
Social media platforms were touted as a virtual gathering place, a substitute for face-to-face interaction. However, not only has it turned out to be a poor substitute for human interaction but it is harmful as well. Available research indicates that it took some time for neurologists and psychologists to document the negative effects all of this digital togetherness is having on our brains and lives (Source: Market Watch 2019).
It has reduced our attention spans, created a nation of addicts craving the dopamine rush from feedback from followers, contributed to an increase in mental health problems among teens, affected the way news is consumed and delivered – and even provided a support system for sick individuals contemplating terrorist acts. To add to the above-mentioned factors, economists suggest that social media and smart phones are depressing work productivity.
Some governments have declared Internet addiction a major public health concern, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has characterised its excessive use as a growing problem. The addicting of users to social media is impermissible because it unjustifiably harms users in a way that is both demeaning and objectionably exploitative.
According to studies, many employees constantly check and interact on social sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter throughout the day, thus making them less productive at work. Company heads text or send emails during corporate board meetings while some employees shop online during office hours – in the middle of presentations. In fact, some big businesses lose billions of cedis or dollars annually due to this unproductivity issue with their employees.
- Fake News
There are a lot of websites out there that are interested only in spreading hoaxes and disinformation just to drive traffic to their sites. By writing sensational stories they draw curious readers, hoping to earn money from the advertisement displayed on them. Many of the fake news are centred on politics, religion, celebrities and health. How many times have you been shocked to read about a celebrity who died in a freaky accident, only to find out that you were reading a fake news story?
- A Poor Way to Communicate Anything of Substance
Social media has proven to be a poor way to communicate anything of substance, exacerbating the deterioration in social discourse. It has created discord, not cohesion, by inviting nasty back-and-forth exchanges among strangers with all manner of bystanders chiming in. Remember when politicians actually talked to one another, in person and in private, in an attempt to reach consensus and solve problems instead of firing off 280-character one-liners for all the world to see?
- Uncontrolled Distribution of Private Information
Social media tools support uncontrolled distribution of private information and intellectual property which might hold many dangers for the economy.
- Prosaic Economic Effect
Another negative impact can be referred to as ‘prosaic economic effect’. With most of the traffic to news sites coming from Facebook, subscription and advertising revenue is disappearing. With less money, newspapers can’t afford a large cohort of foreign correspondents – which means that more and more articles are being written by journalists who don’t fully understand the context of the event they are covering. Without this context, journalists’ decision on which event is worth covering is distorted.
- Disruptions to Internet Connectivity
The Internet is essential to tasks performed across the world daily; from obtaining information to making mobile payments. The Internet has made each task easier. At the same time, Internet disruptions have become common. These disruptions have widespread impacts on people and the economy; with even partial disturbances affecting productivity, souring business confidence and leading to lost opportunities.
In conclusion, social media is both a breakthrough in mass communication and a threat to human relationships. We should be prudent as to how we use the different platforms to our advantage without prejudice to another. We need to have regulations on the Internet to deflate the ramifications of harmful behaviour. However, banning anonymity will do none of that. It will stifle good aspects of the Internet, preventing people from expressing themselves in ways they don’t feel comfortable doing offline.
Social media is where you can show your life and you can see others’ lives. This is where the comparison begins. It usually makes people unhappy about their circumstances and leads to them getting depressed. So it is not a total win-win. Social media is unavoidable, but we can control our habits. We should keep using social media balanced and healthy. That’s the only way we can compromise on technology.
According to Professor Jonah Berger, “Social media is like a drug, but what makes it particularly addictive is that it is adaptive”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ROBERT OWUSU is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (Ghana). A seasoned banker with wide experience in Retail Banking, Internal Auditing, Project Management, Electronic Banking, with high specialty in Internet Banking. He is also a Consultant and a Supervisor of Chartered Institute of Bankers (Ghana) examination.
E-mail address: kwa [email protected]; Tel. 0240 821597 & 0546 907904