Social media has been at the heart of recent news stories, prompting heated debates about its role and influence in today's society.
Although social networking sites have been around since the 1990s, they have only gained popularity among internet users in the past 9 years, with the launch of Friendster. In 2003, MySpace was created, quickly gaining 170 million more members than Friendster. In 2004, both were near obliterated with the launch of Facebook, which now claims to have 750 million active members, a number which is growing by the day. Why the popularity?
Social networking sites have not only reunited long lost friends from school, but provided a forum for people all over the world to express their thoughts, opinions, even post personal photos - all without discrimination or judgement. Even businesses caught on to the trend, with most major companies now having their own Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts. Not only could businesses attract more consumers and clients through media exposure to their product, but they could also judge credibility and reliability of potential employees based on their Facebook profiles. Several high profile cases have included the arrest of an American teacher who posted personal photos of herself with a male student on MySpace, the suicide of a young girl bullied on Facebook, and numerous terminations of young teachers who have posted pictures of themselves acting intoxicated or inappropriately.
Now it seems that social media has had a presence in almost every news event that I have followed - the Libya conflict, the uprising in London, the riots in Greece, and now violence in Mexico. Are we using social media as a democratic tool or a vehicle to drive chaos into society?
Drug gangs and violent crimes have always been an unfortunate yet lingering part of Mexican history, with murder rates soaring in recent years. Recent reports show that nearly 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006, including drug gang members, security forces, and innocent bystanders. Numerous discoveries of mass graves have shocked the world, but this year has seen a new challenge for the cartels. Locals, who want the violence to end, have risen up against the gangs and launched an online campaign to save their streets. Residents have taken to Twitter to describe beatings, name murderers, and post gruesome photos, leading to a ‘web war’ between the cartels and residents, which is now spilling on to the streets.
Two bodies were left dangling off a bridge in Nuevo Laredo with a sign threatening Twitter users, warning those who are exposing the crime online to keep quiet. And while the cartels have silenced local news stations and newspapers, they can not silence social media, which has accumulated more followers than ever before.
Although social media has played a consistent role in all of these events, it has played a very different role in each. It was a tool for self-empowerment in Libya, a voice for the silenced victims in Mexico, a political right for the people in Greece, and a weapon of mass destruction in London. Social technologies can be both, and equally, a catalyst and a weapon. It all depends on who is in front of the computer screen, and in today’s society there is no way of controlling that – essentially, the intention of its creation.
Social media allows for anyone anywhere in the world to post a message or a link and have it transmitted to any desired outlet. And while many originally logged on to Twitter to 'follow' celebrities, a majority now depends on it for personal use. And while social technologies have provided opportunities for self-expression and freedom of speech, launching a new trend of ‘citizen journalism’, its existence has allowed us to 'tune out' the world. Relationships can develop, friendships can be maintained, important conversations can be communicated through emails, birthday presents from a loved one can be bought and delivered - all electronically, without having any physical interaction. For a media that's so impersonal, we're using it in every aspect of our personal lives. Are we too dependent on its presence? Are future generations going to reflect back on this time, and consider it the era of technology vs. humanity?
The Age of Social Media
Social media is playing an essential role in breaking news, but how healthy is our new obsession?
by Natalia Gomes (20 September 2011)