In this month’s blog post, Boris Chapoton is reflecting on the fear that people can have when it comes to social network sites. Divided into 2 parts to be published within the month, the first part intends to describe what social media is, how it could be attractive to adolescents in particular, and what economic benefits are associated with its use. The second part will focus on the dangers that could be associated with the use of social media, and an insight into the problems teenagers could be facing while using Snapchat.
Faceboohoook… INstagrAhAhAhAM… (indistinct whisperers)… SNAPCHAT! I got you, right? Aren’t you scared? You should be. Imagine a place where people can communicate with anybody around the world, get access to lots of information, share any type of content, and that teenagers can have “unrestricted” access to such a place. Worst, imagine that we can’t have access to what teenagers are looking at or sharing with strangers.
PART I – What is Social Media and why are people using it?
Social Media is not that recent…
Social media (SM) emerged at the same time as the internet and has grown at the same speed as more and more people began to access it. SM could be described as interactive media through which one can communicate and exchange data (documents, photos, videos etc.) with individuals or groups, within or outside their immediate environment. In the past (20 years ago), when connecting to the internet, you had to listen to dial-up sounds and screeches for about 30 seconds before connecting. If that wasn’t bad enough, you also had to hope that nobody else in the house wanted to use the phone at the same time! This was the first time it was possible to chat/ communicate with friends or strangers on online platforms. These platforms were generated by the internet providers for example, which were creating general or specific “Chat rooms” dedicated to particular subjects or populations. At the time, the abbreviation ASL(Age/Sex/Location) was asked as an introduction to get to know the person behind the pseudonym. Since then, SM has evolved to include users personalised content. Users can create a profile with as much personal information as they wish, can give opinions about what other users are posting, and get approval (with or without asking for it) from the content they are publishing – whether from anonymous users or from identifiable ones.
…but SM use is getting bigger and bigger
From 2001 to 2017, the global numbers of individuals using the Internet increased from 8% to 48%. In 2018, 4.021 billion people were using the internet; 3.196 billion were SM users. Use of traditional media i.e. TV or radio, is being exceeded by SM platforms on which internet users spend more and more time. Thus, nearly half of the population of the world can be reached through the internet and in extension SM, and two thirds of the population can hypothetically share information and communicate with each other, or can be reached online through these media.
“Man is by nature a social animal” (Aristotle)
In “Social Media” there is the “Social” element that is the core component of the applications and websites. If we focus on teenagers, the adolescent period is considered as being one of the most complicated period in one’s life – teenagers are trying to ‘find’ themselves and discover where they sit in society, all the while experiencing rapid developmental and hormonal changes that cause confusion and anxiety. This group are seeking external validation that they are socially acceptable. SM can facilitate this processand be of significant importance for teenagers; it gives them the opportunity to be connected and to communicate with their peers at any time, to access information related to what they like (music, clothes, famous people etc.) and to get to know and learn from the experiences of the people they are connected with. Extensive networks allow some teenagers to connect with people they would normally see at school or at other places they go, with friends of their friends, or with people they just share a common interest with. Even if they are in contact with groups that in “real life” settings they probably wouldn’t interact with, they do not necessarily interact with them that much online either. They are just acknowledging that they have something in common like it could be the case for two people from different grade levels going to the same school who wouldn’t talk to each other at school but still would be connected online.
The communication channel
The “Media” element of “Social Media” involves a way of carrying something (e.g. an informational, or an entertaining piece of content) from A to B, to carry a message from the sender to the receiver. As such, the SM could be considered as a great place to discover other people, different cultures and parts of the world that might have been hard to reach in another time. It allows users to get access to information, to share knowledge internationally, to maintain access to one’s contact anytime, anywhere and to advertise products as well.
The economic part associated to SM
As previously stated, nearly half of the population can be reached through SM. It is then no wonder why a whole new economic industry has been developed within this new way of reaching populations worldwide. A decade ago, the most valuable companies were the ones selling energy (ExxonMobil, General Electric). Nowadays, the most valuable ones are the ones giving access to data (Apple, Alphabet/Google, Facebook). These data are provided by the internet and SM users themselves. They are used by, or sold to companies in order to reach particular types of populations. Every time you use the product attached to SM and grant the company permission, data is obtained on some of your characteristics: your age, sex, marital status, mood, place you went to, etc. However, if we take the example of Facebook, rather than selling your data directly to particular companies, they would provide access to you to specific buyers (e.g. Spreading an advertisement from a company to a specific type of population such as 20 years old single men interested in sports within a specific area). By doing so, Facebook generated in 2017 nearly 40 billion U.S. dollars on advertising revenue alone. This figure corresponded to about 98% of the company’s global revenue. However, to make sure that companies pay them to advertise their products through their media, SM have to make sure that people are using it on a regular basis.
To be continued…
Moreno, M.A., Whitehill, J.M. Influence of Social Media on Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Young Adults. Alcohol Research (2014) 36(1): 91-100.
Source: International Telecommunication Union, http://www.itu.int/ict/statistics