Citizen of the World Guides
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Social media

The term “social media” refers to the use of Internet-based applications for the creation, dissemination and sharing of user-generated content often of a personal nature. The essence of social media sites is the enabling of participants to communicate and network with each other rapidly online. The largest such sites are currently Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. The latter site is more narrowly focused on networking for business and professional purposes than the others.
The origins of social media are diverse and murky. College students working in their dorms, venture capitalists seeding thousands of startup concepts, Internet users seeking new and easier ways to connect with each other – these all played a role in the development of today’s thriving social media platforms. Yet maybe, just maybe, the pivotal event was a secret meeting held on October 4, 2001 between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfelt. Their conversation may have gone like this:
“Dick, the N.S.A. people tell me they have a huge problem in covertly gathering information on private individuals and groups both here at home and globally. There’s just too much data out there and it’s totally unorganized. Some young hotshot at the N.S.A. thinks we should create a secret fund to back entrepreneurs to develop what he calls ‘social media sites’ where individuals and groups are encouraged to post, share and discuss personal information about themselves and their lives through words, photos and videos. Such sites would bring all this data together in an organized online format that makes it significantly easier for the N.S.A. to harvest. What do you think?”
“Donald, let’s do it. No one has to know the Federal Government is involved. Would $500 million be enough? We could get some of our hedge fund buddies to front this for us.” Who knows? The return on such secret investments may be funding the next generation of N.S.A.’s covert surveillance techniques.
Over the past five years, the use of social media by individuals and groups worldwide has grown exponentially in conjunction with the use of mobile communication devices, especially smartphones. This also reflects the success of social media sites in deliberately engineering their sites to be addictive for users. As of mid-2022, Facebook claims to have close to 3 billion daily active users worldwide and Twitter claims to have over 229 million daily active users around the world. The figures for the number of active users claimed by various social media sites, however, are invariably exaggerated by the inclusion of false and bot spam accounts, perhaps significantly. Nevertheless, social media sites are proliferating on the Internet, each with a slightly different appeal or specialization. Plus, all of the existing larger sites are constantly striving to invent new applications for their users.
To some extent, the use of social media is a generational phenomenon. Facebook was started in a college dorm with the goal of enabling students to hook up. While most users today are probably still 15 to 25 years old, many others are younger and older. In the case of both Facebook and Twitter, the majority of users are also female.
Is it possible to be a “Pro” Communicator and not be an active user of social media? The answer to that depends on the field in which you work. Large retail and other customer service oriented organizations are increasingly using social media, such as Twitter, to interact with their customers. News and other media-related companies harvest social media for fast-breaking developments, plus use it to draw attention to their own output. On the other hand, from a business and professional standpoint, one could make a strong case that engaging in most forms of social media (outside of professional-related sites such as LinkedIn) is a major impediment to concentrating on hard tasks without distraction and being a “Pro” Communicator, as described in this Citizen of the World Guide.
If you are actively engaged in social media, how much time do you have left over for being an effective communicator in the rest of your life? Each time my youngest daughter started a new term at university, she followed a practice of shutting down her Facebook page. Otherwise, my daughter knew it would be too big of a distraction and consume too much of her time.
What we’re seeing with social media at the present time may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of surrendering one’s attention span, discretionary time and privacy in return for snippets of virtual ephemeral chatter and an illusionary sense of belonging. Are we being played by the purveyors of social media like we’ve never been played before to think that social media needs to become a big part of our daily lives (so they can provide advertisers with better ways of reaching us)? When does the constant and aggressive distraction of social media overpower the need for individuals to reflect quietly on their own about what’s important, to have genuine compassion for others in the flesh, to engage in meaningful personal relationships and to appreciate firsthand the wonderment of wildlife and the natural world?
Yes, social media offers a shotgun way to mobilize support for a cause, to broadcast news as it’s breaking, to organize events, to respond to emergencies and to disseminate special promotions. For want-to-be Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and those in the fashion world, social media can be used as a vehicle to blast from obscurity to fame overnight. Corporate CEO’s can use social media to communicate with their thousands of employees via videos. Social media also provides a fast way to obtain feedback and gauge public opinion on issues (that can be briefly described).
Yet, apart from professional sites such as LinkedIn, a very high percentage of the content generated on social media is fleeting, inconsequential and self-promotional. More significantly, social media is facilitating an enormous rise in extreme anti-social behavior, including bullying, harassment and hateful posts, ones that people would never utter face-to-face with someone. Sites such as Facebook and YouTube are enabling people to stream videos of beatings, murder and suicides in real time online. The societal cost of such harmful activities is beyond calculation.
Some social media sites have amplified mental health issues of anxiety, depression and suicide, especially on the part of teenagers. This includes adopting unrealistic body standards, leading to eating disorders. The higher the rates of usage of social media, the greater these disorders become. Concerns over the negative impact of social media have led to the founding of the Log Off Movement dedicated to “lowering social media's impact on mental health while teaching teenage users and their parents about how to navigate the vast inner -workings of life on social media” (see
It is impossible to predict the exact future of social media even one year ahead. Will it become more and more addictive to its users? Probably. Will it become increasingly used by companies, organizations and governments for their own purposes? Probably. Will mental health problems become even more pervasive as a result of the growing use of social media? Absolutely. Will individuals continue to do serious harm to their reputations by indiscreet uses of social media? Certainly. Will criminal hackers find new ways to obtain sensitive personal financial information from social media? Definitely. But, in most other respects, it is a wide-open game with almost limitless possibilities, both good and bad.

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