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.
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.
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. The 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.