I like to keep up with what's happening with my friends and share things that I think are interesting and fun (and maybe flex a bit). Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don't, and some of what I see can make me annoyed. I want to know how to deal with that and what some of the hidden dangers and problems of social media might be.
Social media simply means sharing with others online, especially in a network of friends - not just your IRL friends but a big network of people online. This is why social media platforms are often called 'social networking' sites.
Since Facebook, the first social media platform that became really popular was created, there are now many social media platforms. Each one has slightly different features and appeals to slightly different types of people.
Most social media platforms include the ability to share or reshare images, video or short text posts, and let you choose who is in your friends list so that they can see what you share.
MOST POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA platforms
There are now lots of social media platforms but we typically only know about the top ten or twenty and maybe only use a handful.
The world spends more than 10 billion hours using social media platforms each day (which is the equivalent of nearly 1.2 million years of human existence).
Like YouTube or WhatsApp, many platforms often have messaging or video functions built into them so it's hard to tell if something is a social media platform or whether it's a gaming, video or messaging site.
Facebook 2.7 billion
YouTube 2 billion
WhatsApp 2 billion
Instagram 1 billion
Reddit 400 million
Pinterest 400 million
Twitter 350 million
Most popular social media platforms from Charts and Chill on YouTube.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Usually, you create a profile which people can find and which they use to add you as a friend.
Some platforms, like TikTok or Instagram, combine this with sharing video or image content and some, like Reddit, allow you to comment on threads and vote for popular posts.
Platforms like Twitter have some restrictions on the amount of content you can add, or have their own particular set of activities they support, like Pinterest.
HOW OLD DO I NEED TO BE?
When you are signing up to a social media platform most will ask you what your date of birth is. This is because there are laws around the companies and how they collect your information.
This is why most platforms do not allow users who are younger than 13.
WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?
Sharing your life.
Keeping a record of all the things you have done.
Joining in with people like you (using Facebook Groups, for example).
Keeping in touch with people (especially in the pandemic) that haven't seen for a while.
Other features - like buying and selling in Facebook Marketplace, for example can be useful.
Some sites allow you to be anonymous by creating a profile that doesn't reveal everything about you.
WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?
You can become dependant. Because social media is always on, you might find yourself checking back frequently especially when you are bored.
You might feel a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out, especially when people seem to be doing exciting things and you are not).
You are visible. And so, sometimes people will try and use social media to harass, threat and bully you.
Privacy. Many platforms have been accused of selling data about their users, targeting them with ads they don't want or tracking users' location.
Your reputation. Although you can delete a post or image, someone can copy it and share it before you do. Photos, images and videos of you may be posted without your consent.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?
Who owns the service I am using and subscribing to?
Where is my data stored?
Who owns the rights to images and videos I upload?
What is captured by the service (location data, data on which websites I visit)?
What copyright laws apply to me?
What processes are there in place if my content is misused?
What is the complaints procedure?
If this is a free service, how does the company make money (e.g. through advertising)?
Is what they do in line with data laws where I live?
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - digital footprints
One thing it is important to remember is that everywhere you visit on the internet leaves behind a footprint - a digital one.
Your digital footprint is data that shows what you do online - websites you have visited, posts you have left on social media and things people have said about or to you in those posts. Things you have posted, or posts about you, are captured by internet robots that crawl the web and index content, and technologies like cookies (small data files) track what happens when you visit websites.
Social media platforms contribute a lot to your digital footprint, as most people spend a long time searching for videos or images, posting, or browsing on these platforms. These platforms know a lot about you already if you have created a profile.
You might think this isn't important to you now - after all you have nothing to hide - but in the future, when you want to go to university or get a job, it may turn out that it becomes very important.
Watch this video by the Digital Video Production students of Wichita High School East on YouTube that looks at why thinking about your digital footprint is important.
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - ECHO CHAMBERS
So you can make your mind up about something you probably want to hear a lot of different views and opinions.
But when you’re only hearing the same opinions over and over again, you may be in something called an echo chamber - where you only see information or opinions that are the same as their own.
Social media is about hanging out with people like you. This has made echo chambers much easier to fall into, and often you have no idea you are in one. Watch this video from GCFLearnfree on YouTube about echo chambers.
Do you think you've been in an echo chamber?