The variety of evolving stand-alone and built-in social media services introduces a challenge of definition. The idea that social media are defined by their ability to bring people together has been seen as too broad a definition, as this would suggest that the telegraph and telephone were also social media – not the technologies scholars are intending to describe. The terminology is unclear, with some referring to social media as social networks.
A 2015 paper reviewed the prominent literature in the area and identified four commonalities unique to then-current social media services:
social media are Web 2.0 Internet-based applications,
user-generated content (UGC) is the lifeblood of the social media organism,
users create service-specific profiles for the site or app that are designed and maintained by the social media organization,
social media facilitate the development of online social networks by connecting a user's profile with those of other individuals or groups.
In 2016, Merriam-Webster defined social media as "Forms of electronic communication (such as Web sites) through which people create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, etc."
The term social media is usually used to describe social networking sites such as:
Facebook – an online social networking site that allows users to create their personal profiles, share photos and videos, and communicate with other users
Twitter – an internet service that allows users to post "tweets" for their followers to see updates in real-time
LinkedIn – a networking website for the business community that allows users to create professional profiles, post resumes, and communicate with other professionals and job-seekers.
Pinterest – an online community that allows users to display photos of items found on the web by "pinning" them and sharing ideas with others.
Snapchat – an app for mobile devices that allows users to send and share photos of themselves doing their daily activities.
Social media technologies take many different forms including blogs, business networks, enterprise social networks, forums, microblogs, photo sharing, products/services review, social bookmarking, social gaming, social networks, video sharing, and virtual worlds. The development of social media started off with simple platforms such as sixdegrees.com. Unlike instant messaging clients such as ICQ and AOL's AIM, or chat clients like IRC, iChat or Chat Television, sixdegrees.com was the first online business that was created for real people, using their real names. However, the first social networks were short-lived because their users lost interest. The Social Network Revolution has led to the rise of the networking sites. Research shows that the audience spends 22 percent of their time on social networking sites, thus proving how popular social media platforms have become. This increase is because of the smart phones that are now in the daily lives of most humans.
Some social media sites have greater potential for content that is posted there to spread virally over social networks. This is an analogy to the concept of a viral infectious disease in biology, some of which can spread rapidly from an infected person to another person. In a social media context, content or websites that are "viral" (or which "go viral") are those with a greater likelihood that users will reshare content posted (by another user) to their social network, leading to further sharing. In some cases, posts containing controversial content (e.g., Kim Kardashian's nude photos that "broke the Internet" and crashed servers) or fast-breaking news have been rapidly shared and re-shared by huge numbers of users. Many social media sites provide specific functionality to help users reshare content – for example, Twitter's retweet button, Pinterest's pin function, Facebook's share option or Tumblr's reblog function. Businesses have a particular interest in viral marketing tactics because such a campaign can achieve widespread advertising coverage (particularly if the "viral" reposting itself makes the news) for a fraction of the cost of a traditional marketing campaign (e.g., billboard ads, television commercials, magazine ads, etc.). Nonprofit organisations and activists may have similar interests in posting content online with the hopes that it goes viral. The social news website Slashdot, sometimes has news stories that, once posted on its website, "go viral"; the Slashdot effect refers to this situation.
Mobile social media refers to the use of social media on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. This is a group of mobile marketing applications that allow the creation, exchange and circulation of user-generated content. Due to the fact that mobile social media run on mobile devices, they differ from traditional social media by incorporating new factors such as the current location of the user (location-sensitivity) or the time delay between sending and receiving messages (time-sensitivity). According to Andreas Kaplan, mobile social media applications can be differentiated among four types:
Space-timers (location and time sensitive): Exchange of messages with relevance mostly for one specific location at one specific point in time.
Space-locators (only location sensitive): Exchange of messages, with relevance for one specific location, which are tagged to a certain place and read later by others.
Quick-timers (only time sensitive): Transfer of traditional social media applications to mobile devices to increase immediacy.
Slow-timers (neither location, nor time sensitive): Transfer of traditional social media applications to mobile devices.
In the book Networked – The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, the two authors reflect on mainly positive effects of social media and other Internet-based social networks. According to the authors, social media are used to document memories, learn about and explore things, advertise oneself and form friendships. For instance, they claim that the communication through Internet based services can be done more privately than in real life. Furthermore, Rainie and Wellman discuss that everybody has the possibility to become a content creator. Content creation provides networked individuals opportunities to reach wider audiences. Moreover, it can positively affect their social standing and gain political support. This can lead to influence on issues that are important for someone. As a concrete example of the positive effects of social media, the authors use the Tunisian revolution in 2011, where people used Facebook to gather meetings, protest actions, etc. Rainie and Wellman (Ibid) also discuss that content creation is a voluntary and participatory act. What is important is that networked individuals create, edit, and manage content in collaboration with other networked individuals. This way they contribute in expanding knowledge. Wikis are examples of collaborative content creation.
A survey conducted (in 2011), by Pew Internet Research, discussed in Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman's Networked – The New Social Operating System, illustrates that 'networked individuals' are engaged to a further extent regarding numbers of content creation activities and that the 'networked individuals' are increasing over a larger age span. These are some of the content creation activities that networked individuals take part in:
writing material, such as text or online comments, on a social networking site such as Facebook: 65% of Internet users do this
sharing digital photos: 55%
contributing rankings and reviews of products or services: 37%
creating "tags" of content, such as tagging songs by genre: 33%
posting comments on third-party websites or blogs: 26%
taking online material and remixing it into a new creation: 15% of Internet users do this with photos, video, audio, or text
creating or working on a blog: 14%
Another survey conducted (in 2015) by Pew Internet Research shows that the Internet users among American adults who uses at least one social networking site has increased from 10% to 76% since 2005. Pew Internet Research illustrates furthermore that it nowadays is no real gender difference among Americans when it comes to social media usage. Women were even more active on social media a couple of years ago, however today's numbers point at women: 68%, and men: 62%. Social media have been used to assist in searches for missing persons. When 21-year-old University of Cincinnati student Brogan Dulle disappeared in May 2014 from near his apartment in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, his friends and family used social media to organize and fund a search effort. The disappearance made international news when their efforts went viral on Facebook, Twitter, GoFundMe, and The Huffington Post during the week-long search. Dulle's body was eventually found in a building next door to his apartment.
Negative effects[edit source]
There are several negative effects to social media which receive criticism, for example regarding privacy issues, information overload and Internet fraud. Social media can also have negative social effects on users. Angry or emotional conversations can lead to real-world interactions outside of the Internet, which can get users into dangerous situations. Some users have experienced threats of violence online and have feared these threats manifesting themselves offline. Studies also show that social media have negative effects on peoples' self-esteem and self-worth. The authors of "Who Compares and Despairs? The Effect of Social Comparison Orientation on Social Media Use and its Outcomes" found that people with a higher social comparison orientation appear to use social media more heavily than people with low social comparison orientation. This finding was consistent with other studies that found people with high social comparison orientation make more social comparisons once on social media. People compare their own lives to the lives of their friends through their friends' posts. People are motivated to portray themselves in a way that is appropriate to the situation and serves their best interest. Often the things posted online are the positive aspects of people's lives, making other people question why their own lives are not as exciting or fulfilling. This can lead to depression and other self-esteem issues.
Three researchers at Blanquerna University, Spain, examined how adolescents interact with social media and specifically Facebook. They suggest that interactions on the website encourage representing oneself in the traditional gender constructs, which helps maintain gender stereotypes. The authors noted that girls generally show more emotion in their posts and more frequently change their profile pictures, which according to some psychologists can lead to self-objectification. On the other hand, the researchers found that boys prefer to portray themselves as strong, independent, and powerful. For example, men often post pictures of objects and not themselves, and rarely change their profile pictures; using the pages more for entertainment and pragmatic reasons. In contrast girls generally post more images that include themselves, friends and things they have emotional ties to, which the researchers attributed that to the higher emotional intelligence of girls at a younger age. The authors sampled over 632 girls and boys from the ages of 12–16 from Spain in an effort to confirm their beliefs. The researchers concluded that masculinity is more commonly associated with a positive psychological well-being, while femininity displays less psychological well-being. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that people tend not to completely conform to either stereotype, and encompass desirable parts of both. Users of Facebook generally use their profile to reflect that they are a "normal" person. Social media was found to uphold gender stereotypes both feminine and masculine. The researchers also noted that the traditional stereotypes are often upheld by boys more so than girls. The authors described how neither stereotype was entirely positive, but most people viewed masculine values as more positive.
Terri H. Chan, the author of "Facebook and its Effects on Users' Empathic Social Skills and Life Satisfaction: A Double Edged Sword Effect", claims that the more time people spend on Facebook, the less satisfied they feel about their life. Self-presentational theory explains that people will consciously manage their self-image or identity related information in social contexts. According to Gina Chen, the author of Losing Face on Social Media: Threats to Positive Face Lead to an Indirect Effect on Retaliatory Aggression Through Negative Affect, when people are not accepted or are criticized online they feel emotional pain. This may lead to some form of online retaliation such as online bullying. Trudy Hui Hui Chua and Leanne Chang's article, "Follow Me and Like My Beautiful Selfies: Singapore Teenage Girls' Engagement in Self-Presentation and Peer Comparison on Social Media" states that teenage girls manipulate their self-presentation on social media to achieve a sense of beauty that is projected by their peers. These authors also discovered that teenage girls compare themselves to their peers on social media and present themselves in certain ways in effort to earn regard and acceptance, which can actually lead to problems with self-confidence and self-satisfaction.
According to writer Christine Rosen in "Virtual Friendship, and the New Narcissism," many social media sites encourage status-seeking. According to Rosen, the practice and definition of "friendship" changes in virtuality. Friendship "in these virtual spaces is thoroughly different from real-world friendship. In its traditional sense, friendship is a relationship which, broadly speaking, involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific social (and cultural) contexts. Because friendship depends on mutual revelations that are concealed from the rest of the world, it can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy; the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron." Rosen also cites Brigham Young University researchers who "recently surveyed 184 users of social networking sites and found that heavy users 'feel less socially involved with the community around them.'" Critic Nicholas G. Carr in "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" questions how technology affects cognition and memory. "The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author's words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas... If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with "content," we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture."
Bo Han, a social media researcher at Texas A&M University-Commerce, finds that users are likely to experience the "social media burnout" issue. Ambivalence, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization are usually the main symptoms if a user experiences social media burnout. Ambivalence refers to a user's confusion about the benefits she can get from using a social media site. Emotional exhaustion refers to the stress a user has when using a social media site. Depersonalization refers to the emotional detachment from a social media site a user experiences. The three burnout factors can all negatively influence the user's social media continuance. This study provides an instrument to measure the burnout a user can experience, when her social media "friends" are generating an overwhelming amount of useless information (e.g., "what I had for dinner", "where I am now").