All of us live in a world where information on essentially everything and anything is a mere press of a button away. We are affected by all the information surrounding us. Humankind in the 21st century wants to know, read, understand and then speak our minds about it. This in a nutshell is where the role of social media comes in. Social media has become a big part of our lives and we just cannot ignore it. It is deeply rooted in the lives of all.
There would be earthquakes ravaging the hilly passes of Sicily, tsunamis destroying the endless coasts of Indonesia, ardent fires consuming the redwood forests of California, yet across the globe, in this inter-collected village, within a handful of minutes mankind would be informed of these tragedies. Gone are the days when people would wait to receive letters from loved ones and friends, when people would go to the high streets to do their daily shop; in this day and age families are connected through a plethora of social media platforms, be it the now the aging Facebook or the ever common WhatsApp. Distance is just not an obstacle in the way of man now.
High street spending has drastically decreased in the last decade or so with a dwindling number of shoppers causing 85,000 job losses in the first 9 months of 2018 alone1, whereas online shopping has skyrocketed with shoppers now doing 51% of their buying online according to a 2016 survey2. With 1 in 4 social media users following their favourite brand which they are likely to buy from, it has become a serious money-making business.
This essay will provide a comprehensive insight into the ever-growing world of social media and its history, delve into the impacts of it, be they positive or negative and then move onto our main question, is social media really taking over the world?
Before we begin, let us take a look into what social media is. Social media, according to the Cambridge English dictionary, is defined to be as ‘websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information via the internet using a computer, mobile phone or any such device’3. In essence it is a quicker form of communication and information-sharing for mankind.
Social media, in the form that we see it today, is a relatively new concept. You can date its birth 22 years back to 19974 with the creation of a social media platform called ‘Six Degrees’. This primitive form of social media allowed users to make a profile and befriend other users. Within 2 years, in 19995, the sensation of blogging sites became popular which went to establish the revolution of social media. A new era had begun. Just a few years’ later sites like Myspace and LinkedIn joined the revolution. Then in 2005, the creation of YouTube brought social media to new heights, bringing an even newer way for people to communicate.
To add to this hype was the creation of Facebook and Twitter, which became available to people across the globe in 2006. Since then the world of social media has made leaps and bounds in regards to its progress. From what was originally just a handful of social media platforms, now has become a billion dollar business with the revolutionising additions of platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat assisting it along the way.
Now, when we throw around the phrase ‘social media’, sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat would come to our mind first. However social media is much more than that. There are In fact many platforms of social media. It is not confined to our everyday apps be it Instagram or WhatsApp. You have got the traditional social networking site to the upcoming booming business in the form of social economy networks such as AirBnB.
These are social networks which bring people together who want to share something; accommodation being the example here. You also have social review sites which essentially root the foundations of our opinions regarding things whether they are a product or even a holiday. Discussion sites such as Reddit are also another form of social media. It allows people to voice their opinion and have informative, though many a time a heated, discussion with people across the globe.
Moving on let us take a look at the impacts of social media, both positive and negative, on the world and society in general. Social media is a controversial issue in this day and age with many people believing it to be a boon for society yet there is an ever-rising majority who refer to it as a ‘curse’. Many feel strongly that it has destroyed human interaction at a worryingly rapid rate whilst there are others who feel that it is a blessing which has allowed man to be connected with its loved ones in every single corner of the world.
There is a lot that social media can do. It is an unarguable fact that social media has made our lives easier, convenient and much faster. Yet, some may argue, that maybe it has started to have a negative impact on our lives.
Firstly let us take a look into the positives behind social media. The most obvious positive impact of social media has been in regards to friends and relations. People from anywhere have the ability to connect with friends and family thousands of miles away, with location no more an obstacle in regards to connectivity. Social media has in essence allowed us to communicate in a speedy and efficient manner. We are now living in a world where family members living in far off countries are kept abreast of the latest happenings in your life just as quickly as your next door neighbour. The world has advanced from being at a stage where man was on constant expeditions to discover new lands to today, a world which seems big no more, a world which has become a deeply connected village.
Moving on, social media has had a massive impact in regards to information and update, although negatives do exist, which will be discussed later on. As mentioned prior at the beginning of this essay, Whether events are happening in one country or another thousands of miles away we are updated within a matter of minutes. Social networking has allowed us to update the world at large of the latest events in our respective countries, whether they are election results or even disasters which have befallen them. In spite of living in a world where press and media are heavily biased, social media allows the truth to come out.
Social media has also had a positive impact on the modern day economy with many brands and businesses utilising it to promote their services or products. It allows them to push their brands onto the global stage at a click of a button, something that would have been a dream for businesses around 20 years ago. It is something which has come to be described as the ‘digital gold rush’. With consumers now spending an average 9 hours a day online, social media has become a heavily invested business strategy. It has become the reason behind the introduction of a wealth of new jobs with roles such as “social media manager” coming into existence. Social media has become such a key tool of advertising for businesses that it is said that they were willing to spend a gargantuan $117 billion on online media alone. With an estimated 3 billion social media user’s worldwide, businesses are now taking full advantage of this tool, enabling them to engage with consumers across the globe in a single post.
The positive impacts of social media aren’t just limited to things like connectivity, economy and information etc. In recent years it has also been heavily utilised by police and security forces. Social media has evolved to such an extent that now it has become a crime-fighting tool, with police no longer limited to implausible eye-witness accounts and DNA tests. The NYPD (New York Police Department) have even introduced a social media unit to aid in fighting crime. They can be used to monitor suspicious activity, anything from illegal parties to drugs and even murder. One example of social media bringing people to justice is in relation to the ‘Fetti Boyz’ case. Members of the gang ‘Fetti Boyz’ were peddling marijuana, crack and weapons and were brought to justice when they turned to social media to brag about their exploits.
Brazil is one other country turning to social media to fight crime. Citizens of Brazil are using social media – particularly Twitter – to report criminal activity which in turn is used as data to aid police. This led to the creation of MapInfo, a crime mapping program which police use to identify hotspots and at risk neighbourhoods. This was implemented in 2001. Since then the homicide rate in Diadema, a Brazilian municipality located just outside of Sao Paolo which at one point registered around 102.82 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants in 1999, expeditiously decreased by 68% and then by 2009, reported crimes had dropped by 81.5%, according to a World Bank report.
This is plainly down to social media. By providing citizens a platform to report criminal activity quickly and efficiently security and police services were able to create a state-of-the-art crime mapping program which enabled them to heavily reduce crime in a country which is notorious for its lack of transparency, especially in regards to crime reporting.
Furthermore social media analytics tools can review vast amounts of social media data to uncover patterns and analyse sentiment. By capturing open source intelligence and analysing it, agencies can more adeptly discover trends and monitor threats as they grow in significance, enabling early preventative policing.
One sector that social media once again has had a beneficial influence upon is education. Proponents of social networking portals believe them to be the ideal platforms for students that help them in exploring best educational practices.
One branch of social media which is heavily utilized in the education sector is YouTube. YouTube is not just a form of social media to turn to at times of procrastination, to waste your entire day watching cat videos. In fact the most unexpected channel that is producing viral sensations is in fact education.
The roots of education as a tool on YouTube can be seen as far back as 2004 when, now American educator and entrepreneur, Salman Khan uploaded a video of him tutoring his cousin. This led to the creation of a non-profit worth millions in grants from the Gates Foundation and Google. Since then his videos have garnered a massive 500 million views reaching a global subscriber audience of 2.2 million. This has led to numerous education channels on YouTube reaching stardom. Examples include ‘Veritasium’ with 2.4 million subscribers, ‘CrashCourse’ with 3.1 million subscribers, and ‘VSauce’ with 8.9 million subscribers.
The success of such channels is largely down to the very element that students may not receive in their usual everyday classroom. A fun and entertaining twist to education. This new generation of online educators succeeds in ways that the everyday college teacher or university professor does not. Teachers and professors are not typically selected for their knack to be engaging or even effective conveyors of information, more so for their research output. Professors and teachers may be more concerned with cramming exam material into student’s heads instead of giving them tools to succeed in a self-sufficient manner. Also, with social media and the internet, students are not as afraid to be curious and ask questions. They can search something on google or ask someone on social media and get responses immediately; they are not as powerless. They may not have friends who are expert linguists for example but there are surely people on Google or other social media platforms who certainly are.
One more positive of social media which is worthy of mentioning is regarding unity of society. We currently live in an age where there is constant threat of war, insecurity and not least of all inequality, with current conditions likened to those in the mid of the 20th Century. Social media in recent years, where we have seen the likes of the Arab Spring grip the Middle East, and the Black Lives Matter campaign gain popularity, has become a tool to unite communities. Social Media affects society positively because it unites people together for a common goal and it has the ability to create positive outcomes. It can also rally people for a cause, and it inspires mass movements for positive social change.
Let us take the example of the Black Lives Matter movement. After George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2013, members of the black community and activists everywhere needed an outlet for their frustration, as well as a platform where they could call for change. They found one: Social media and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which has become emblematic of modern racial injustices. Exactly five years later, the Black Lives Matter movement is a quintessential example of a movement that’s found successful amplification through social media. According to a newly released Pew study, the hashtag has been used nearly 30 million times on Twitter – an average of 17,002 times per day.
#BlackLivesMatter is emblematic of a wider trend – the blossoming role social media plays in all kinds of activist movements. #MeToo, is a key example, as are #LoveWins, #JeSuisCharlie and #MAGA (Make America Great Again).
The Pew study found that 69 percent of Americans believe social media is useful in bringing issues to politicians’ attention, while an additional 67 percent see it as effective for creating sustained movements.
Despite being powerful, social media is after all only a tool for communication. The ideas, the background of events, the deeper levels and the viable alternatives are often being forgotten in the surge of emotions to have change now.
What change is possible and desirable, only a few ask. “Something different but not this, something other now” is a dangerous route that often proves to lead to destruction and a vacuum in which only extremes and extremists thrive. Peace and meaningful, lasting social change could be supported by social media, yet they should always be based on more than a spark of emotion and a million tweets or shares.
Suffice to say, social media has heavily influenced many a sector in positive terms. However, despite its use for good, in light of recent years it has come to portray an image of negativity. Moving on, let us analyse a few key negative impacts of social media.
First and foremost one of the most primary negative impacts of social media can be regarded as cyberbullying. Since the dawn of social media cyberbullying has seen an unprecedented rise. A report published by the PewCentre has shown that most children have now become victims of some sort of cyberbullying or other. With the advancement of technology and the rise of social media, today’s youth are bringing their bullies home with them. What used to be a safe haven has become a whole new battleground where bullies are guaranteed anonymity and direct access to their victims on a consistent basis. Almost 60% of children aged 10-17 have reported being bullied or harassed over the Internet and via social media outlets, and 90% of these victims will never report the incidents.
Cyberbullying takes place across virtually every social media platform. Facebook, with its 1,000,000,000+16 active users, is unsurprisingly the most common social media network used by bullies. The age requirement for the site is 13, yet a staggering 5,000,000+16 accounts are owned by users under the age of 10. The age restriction is rarely enforced. Many argue that children so young are not socially or emotionally mature enough to appreciate the consequences of what they post online or send to others via private messenger.
One point worthy of mentioning is that through people using social media platforms to discriminate and incite hatred against groups, extremism, a concept on the rise anyway, has been given a helping hand through this medium. Social media has in essence became an effective tool for extremist groups to spread their views and gain followers, whilst at the same time inciting hatred against various groups, whether they are of different creed, nation or faith. Terrorist groups have come to use social media more so than ever to increase their following and cause harm. They use this medium to reach out to millions to potentially organise attacks against innocent people.
One impact of social media which has portrayed it in negative light is regarding human interaction, or the lack of therein. First, social media has led us to have fewer interactions with the people that they associate with. The majority of people have access to social media at any time they please via their smartphones, so this only worsens as more people begin to acquire smartphones. Since it has become more prevalent, social media has made people have a tendency to want to interact with people online rather than in person because it has made the process simpler. A simpler process allows for things to be done easier and more efficiently, which attracts more people to give it a try. Although it may be viewed as a positive change, this has caused people to become more antisocial than ever before, as counterintuitive as that may sound. We all know how frustrating it can be when you are with friends and family and rather than go through the ‘excruciating’ process of face-to-face interaction everyone is glued to the screens of their mobile phones. Facebook was not an entity outside of the current generation and it has caused a bit of a culture shock. Studies have shown that people have less interest in interacting with other people both in similar age groups, and with people that are in other age groups. The world has changed into a society that is complacent sitting behind our computer screens. Social media is a leading cause of this complacency. Studies in recent years have shown that their lack of social skills just ends up being a vicious cycle of children that keep falling behind their peers when the other kids in their age group are not using social media, and the internet in general, nearly as much as them. The kids in these studies seem to have trouble having as much emotion attached to exchanges in person despite them being able to hold conversations online. They can never fully be invested with one another and that is where the problem truly lies. Chandra Johnson relates it to the act of a child exploring the world with their own eyes, compared to looking at the same things in pictures. The two can never be equalled.
Almost 60% of children aged 10-17 have reported being bullied or harassed over the Internet and via social media outlets, and 90% of these victims will never report the incidents.
Another negative impact of social media is decreasing language skills. Let’s take the English language as our key example. People tend to forget that the English language is neglected while online. It tends to get swept under the rug when they are online. People use shorthand and shortened versions of the words themselves in order to convey a message much quicker.
This does not necessarily negatively affect how we communicate because written language tends to be easier to decipher. The issue that people will run into is when they try to integrate these forms of communication into the language that is used every day. It lowers their social skills when they use those kinds of words and phrases because they cannot properly convey what they need to these days without using some sort of speech that is colloquial or not in a reputable dictionary. It leads people to try and shoehorn our colloquial metaphors into daily conversations and use the slang terms that social media has helped develop, form, and popularize into the mainstream media.
This has shaped a society that is no longer functioning healthily in social situations. Often time’s people will seem awkward or out of place in these situations and it has been affecting the society in a negative way. Although technology has created a quicker means for people to communicate, they have lost a significant portion of the efficacy of their speech, especially in person.
People tend to forget that the English language is neglected while online. It tends to get swept under the rug when they are online.
This addiction that they are seeing, where these children are unable to remove themselves from social media has started to become a detriment to their functioning inside of social groups. It is a source of procrastination for a lot of those children that have become accustomed to using social media for entertainment.
During a study done with teenagers, they were disconnected from social media for a brief period of time. Over this period, they described feelings that are similar to drug or alcohol withdrawals such as “cravings, anxiety, and jitters”. These forms of social media are so efficient at wasting users’ time due to the way that information is delivered through constant status and photograph updates. This addiction can lead to eventual depression and an increase in anxiety when a social media user is comparing their life to those of their friends to which they are constantly being updated.
Now that we have seen both the good and bad of social media let’s go over to our main question;
Is social media taking over the world?
It may sound dramatic but social media is literally taking over our lives and the world in general in the sense that there is this persistent urge to Facebook, tweet, snap and post our daily moves in an attempt to express our identity to the world and make ourselves feel valued.
One of the biggest problems is that social media has become so easily accessible, we are surrounded by technology on a daily basis allowing us to inform every one of our current activities through the touch of a button; further deepening our obsession.
We are glued to our screens 24/7 and cannot bear to tear ourselves away from our precious phones. Simply, we have come to live in a generation where social media has taken over our minds, thoughts, sight, pretty much everything in our lives is becoming controlled by social media.
Our beloved Khalifa Hazrat Mirza Masoor Ahmad abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" has in recent years mentioned social media more and more frequently, whether it be in a positive or negative light. Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" once stated at the occasion of the Friday Sermon on 31st December 2010 that:
“Be careful of Facebook as it can have many wrong consequences, in particular girls should be very careful.”
Furthermore Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" stated at the 2016 Annual Peace Symposium on 19th March that the media should highlight peaceful teachings of Islam practiced by majority of Muslims. Challenging the media to use its influence as a force for good and to act with responsibility, Hazrat Khalifatul Massih IV stated that:
“There is no doubt that the media plays a huge role in influencing public opinion and so the media should use this power responsibly – as a force for good and as a force for peace. It should show the world what true Islam represents, rather than focusing on the merciless acts of the tiny minority.”
Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" further stated:
“Publicity is the oxygen sustaining most terrorist or extremist groups.”
However, Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" has frequently mentioned how social media has helped to spread the message of Islam Ahmadiyyat on many occasions. Let’s take the example of Huzoors tour of Canada in 2016. Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" stated in his Friday sermon on November 18th 2016 that:
“14.6 million people received the message through social media, the other media, electric media etc.”.
Another example we can use is that of the Friday Sermon on October 14th 2016 when Huzoor abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" stated that:
“Through social media in which Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Periscope are included they (Canada Jama’at) think that through them the message reached to twenty million people.”
Ego is the part of us that loves power. It is the part that loves to be seen, recognized, praised and adored. Facebook and other social networks with it provide a powerful platform for this, by which every word, picture or thought you have can be seen, praised or ‘liked’. We begin to compete with others to see how many friends, views and likes we can get. What we need to understand is that the goal of life is to realise the truth of Allah’s greatness. Allah states in the Holy Quran:
“Mutual rivalry in seeking increase in worldly possessions diverts you from God”The Holy Quran (102:2)
This clearly shows us that how careful we need to be when it comes to social media, because if it comes to the stage that you are completely addicted to it and promoting yourself then this could cause us to leave God behind us.
To sum up, yes social media can be a positive medium, especially as a way of connecting and sharing with family and friends, however when it begins to rule our lives and daily activities, that’s going one step too far. The real question should be, is social media really taking over the world or are we letting it take over. Are we going to reap its benefit for the good of society or are we going to succumb at the hands of an enemy of our own making.