The Almighty and Powerful Social Media

At 1.71 billion users, Facebook is the biggest country in the world, dwarfing both China and India in population.  The number of users on Facebook alone is transcends any country, and it doesn’t even include any other social media platform.  The power of social media is massive not only in numbers but in communication.  The ability to transmit ideas, creations, and movements is what makes social media so powerful but also terrifying.

I first started as a non-believer of social media in 2000 when I gained access to the world wide web on my Windows 98 computer.  My parents were recent immigrants of the country so they had limited knowledge of anything technology, let alone the internet so I assumed that not many people knew about it.  I would always be enthralled with niche web humor like Strongbad or songs like “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny” (crude and simple humor, view at your own discretion).  At the time, the internet was just a place to share user generated content to the rest of the netizens.

Honestly, it wasn’t until I took Race in the Millennium with Anaji Vats that I realized how much power social media gave to the individual.  Many would argue that incidents around the United States like the murder of Trayvon Martin and the protests in Ferguson would never have gotten the exposure it did without the power of social media.

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Would there have been national turmoil over these incidents without social media and the ability to transmit video to millions of people in an incident?  Most likely not.  Social media like Twitter acted as a catalyst to drive discussion and attempts to create change.  Twitter also provides a place for people to discuss and generate debate about current issues, like Black Twitter.   Black Twitter is not just a hashtag, but a form of communication among the black population to discuss and stand in solidarity of social issues.

Unfortunately, social media’s power for the individual leads to opportunities to negatively impact society, consciously or subconsciously.  One of the most famous incidents of the coverage on Hurricane Katrina was when Associated Press posted a picture of a black man “looting” a grocery store while they posted a picture of a white couple “finding” food at a grocery store.

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These unequal portrayals, although not necessarily intentional, were spread to millions of people who were watching on the TV and following coverage on social media.  Another incident that happened in a flash was #KONY2012.  The power of social media made the video viral and the power of social media also dragged it through the ground.  Social media was used to exploit the pathos of humans and in the end, the campaign to stop Kony disappeared as fast as it became viral once the director was exposed. Along with negative subconscious impacts, the power of social media is also used for direct malicious intent.  In one of the most recent cases, ISIS has been using social media to spread their message and gather followers from all around the world.  Thankfully, Google has been actively trying to combat this by making it much more difficult for ISIS to recruit new members. 

 

As the wise Ben Parker once said, with great power comes great responsibility.  d41339a1ca4823cf39fa29453d41d073186851f2a09f0b07513024e1af43ebc8The power of social media platforms to maintain the “perfect” algorithm is near impossible due to the different demographics they need to cater to and their personal financial interests.  Ted Striphas, a professor at Colorado University Boulder talks about how the current algorithms are skewed and give too much power to the third party social media company.  As consumers of social media, we are only exposed to what the algorithm gives us, which is based on our friend group and our interests (which leads to related advertisements).  Friend groups tend to have the same interests, knowledge, and viewpoints which lead to a lack of exposure to new ideas and trends.  Google and Facebook are guilty of this, as Facebook newsfeed is algorithmically customized instead of personally customized.  The lack of a check and balance for the Facebook newsfeed is worrisome to say the least.

Even though it seems like I’m ragging on social media as the big bad wolf, I’m excited for what “Social Media for Managers” has in store for me.  I have very limited exposure in how to use social media effectively in business, but the market is huge.  Insurance companies are paying more than 50 dollars per click and the price is only growing.  The class might be “overwhelming” with all of the different assignments and material that we get exposed to, but there’s just too much to cover in one semester.  After looking at a couple of blog posts, it has reaffirmed my belief of the power of the individual in social media.  Anyone in this class has the ability to write about something powerful, and I can’t wait to read more.

8 comments

  1. Hey Evan!

    Great post about the power of social media and it’s ability to shed light on issues that previously would not have received the same attention. It’s great that you mentioned Ferguson as many incidents of police brutality and institutionalized racism most likely would not have received headlines if not for platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Increased use of hashtags like #Ferguson and later #blacklivesmatter would soon receive national headlines in the media and start a national discussion. There is a new type of power in social media, and at times scary and harmful, it often is also both exciting and influential!

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed reading your first official article. I also enjoyed how you used statistical facts and pictures of tweets etc. to support your claims. I could not agree more with you with the reasoning that social media is extremely scary and that it can negatively effect the world around us. With that though I feel that there are so many positives that can come from social media. With national and international attacks or crisis’ it may be bad because of the online verbal protests and anger, but it also can be good to shed light to the rest of the country and make them aware of what is going on around us. I too am not as educated on what it has as an effect on business but am very eager to see what we learn from this course.

  3. As you discussed in the blog, social media is a powerful tool to unify people and to jumpstart movements, causes, and protests that otherwise would not have started. I thought that it was very interesting when you wrote about Facebook’s advertisement algorithm generating posts with interests and viewpoints that are similar to the user’s interests and viewpoints. This seems to create a “tunnel vision” like bias where the user is only exposed to ideas that reaffirm their own opinions and ideas. Without any opposite viewpoints it is easy for the user to assume that his or her viewpoint must be correct. After reading your blog, I wonder if it is possible that Facebook also increases the divide between conflicting opinions creating more extreme opinions rather than discussions and solutions.

  4. I like how you compared the amount of users on Facebook to populations of large countries, it really puts into perspective just how much this company has grown. Using Trayvon Martin and the protests in Ferguson were perfect examples of how social media now effects the way Americans get their news and view current events. I think it’s great that Google took the initiative to use its powerful platform for the greater good and is beginning to attempt to stop Isis from recruiting new members through the internet. I agree that social media has given each individual user the ability to voice a powerful message to the world. Great post overall.

  5. skuchma215 · ·

    Your thoughts were very insightful, and different from a lot of the other blogs so far. I agree that social media has the potential to negatively impact society. Negative aspects about humanity such as racism and xenophobia can be amplified through social media platforms. It can also be used to connect and empathize as well. While 99% of the time social media is used for entertainment, it can also be used to enact social change.

  6. daniellep2153 · ·

    Great first post! I completely agree that social media has a ton of power, especially when it comes to tragic event that occur. Though, as you mentioned, there is the potential for a lot of negativity to surround media posts, people are using platforms like Facebook to bring attention to old news stories like the JonBenét Ramsey case. Unfortunately, social media’s control on what we see based on the algorithm can sometimes focus on only the negative. I’m interested to see how Facebook changes as they try and customize the algorithm to focus on a individual’s personal habits.

  7. copmania12 · ·

    Hi Evan! Really nice post about social media and how it can be a tool as it relates to current social issues and public policy. Your blog does a really nice job of pointing out that social media is by no means infallible, as it is so heavily dependent on biased user generated content. Even businesses, news sites, and sources that claim/are expected to be both politically correct and neutral make mistakes that upset various communities. I think this type of conflict reflected on social media creates a larger splash than traditional news sources/platforms, because as you point out in your post, online communities can generate their own content in refute of particular media. The algorithm and attention accrued by that media is then what makes it more popular, attracting more comments and attention, and so the cycle continues. This is an interesting blog post, and it reminds me of a link that I tweeted last week about airbnb and their move to limit UGC in order to avoid discriminatory practices as it relates to hosts. Thanks!

  8. It’s interesting that you mention there being an algorithm behind how social media works. Many people like to laud social media as a open space where one can exercise their first amendment and express themselves in any way they choose. However, it’s clear through the examples you’ve provided that this creative freedom will always be limited by business or financial interests, as well as cases of corruption like ISIS where consistent monitoring and censoring is necessary for the greater good. It also brings back the concept of “Big Brother” where it’s scary to think that no matter how private you think your account is, someone is watching everything that you’re putting out there and looking for a chance to either block or exploit your words.

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