THE NEW ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
When social media made it’s first appearance of any significance in this country, it began strictly as a method of connecting long lost friends, old flames and establishing groups for people to associate with others of like minds. By now we are all familiar with the story of Mark Zuckerberg and how he originally came up with the concept (which began as ‘facematch’) as a way of rating the female students on campus at Harvard. We wont delve into who stole from whom as his he has been sued by several individuals and has settled each case out of court in regards to establishing ownership of the company, but as the old adage states, “Possession is nine tenths of the law.” And Mr. Zuckerberg remains firmly in control of Facebook whose value is estimated between 70-100 billion dollars. Facebook has since evolved into an essential part of the lives of individuals not only across the country, but throughout the globe with over 1.1 billion users world wide. Now in it’s 9th year of official existence, Facebook remains the premier social networking site.
The second leading social networking site is twitter. Twitter basically took the Facebook premise and condensed it by limiting its users to only 140 characters in what it referred to as a “tweet”. Twitter permitted users to keep up with celebrities and other famous figures such as athletes and politicians by “following” them online. Unlike Facebook in which you would have to gain permission from the individual to be a part of their page, twitter has no such restrictions. Anyone can literally follow anyone unless their content is deemed by the followed to be rude, anti-social or the followed simply does not want to be followed. Then the followed can “block” that person which will keep them from interacting with them through the medium. Twitter became an instant success and now can boast having over 500 million users.
While both of these sites began as a connection to friends, family, and celebrities, they quickly evolved to become havens for corporations looking to market their respective products online directly to their respective target audience. This was certainly to be expected as corporations discover new ways to attract dollars as sure as nectar will always attract a honeybee. Yet there was another effect that was initiated by the use of social media that perhaps was not to be expected, and that was their prominent role in spreading news and instigating change.
One has only to look back at the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East that has taken place over the past several years as an example of what I would describe as the perfect storm for social media to burst through the ranks of shear entertainment and become a force for social change. With the advent of technology, cellular phones have become a fixture amongst people of all ages and the number one and two apps (respectively) are Facebook and twitter. This permitted each user to instantly connect with their friends and colleagues to discuss topical subjects relating to their government and how they could band together to protest in large numbers, forcing their governments to respond and the worldwide media to take notice. And take notice they have. Regimes have been toppled by the sheer force of will of the masses of people united together in a way they could never have been prior to the advent of social media and the unlimited access to it.
As our nations politics and politicians become younger and more tech savvy, look for both Facebook and twitter to play an even larger role in the future of this country and the world.