Human beings are, by and large, social creatures who enjoy communicating with other people. The advent of social media has made it possible for anyone who has access to the Internet to communicate instantly with people in any part of the world. Social media networks allow users to share information, pictures, music and videos; to chat online; to download games and applications; and to market their products and services.
Any website that allows people to interact with the site and/or with other people can be classed under the heading of social media. Social media also permits the creation and exchange of user-generated content. Types of social media include blog sites; Internet forums; podcasts; virtual gaming websites; social networking sites, such as Facebook and Bebo; microblog sites, including Twitter; and content communities, such as YouTube and Wikipedia.
Social media has been around for much longer than people imagine. The first electronic bulletin board system (BBS) appeared in the late 1970s, allowing PC users to access discussion boards via a dial-up telephone modem. The earliest commercial online services included CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL. The World Wide Web became publicly available on August 6th, 1991, and by the mid-90s Internet service providers began to spring up around the U.S. Internet forum services like GeoCities became popular, leading to the creation of the first social networking site, SixDegrees, in 1997. In the same year, AOL launched its instant messenger service. Friendster, created in 2002, gained more than three million users in its first month, but was overtaken by MySpace in 2003. Facebook appeared in 2004 and Twitter in 2006.
Although social media has many benefits, it also carry inherent dangers. Personal information can be easily accessed, leading to crimes like identity fraud and stalking. It is even dangerous to post a message that you are going on vacation, since this is a virtual invitation to come rob your home. Indiscreet communications by armed services personnel can endanger national security, and social networking channels have allegedly been used for coordinating terrorism and spreading sedition.
Social networking has taken the issue of “stranger danger” to a whole new level, since the anonymity of these websites allows a 40-year-old pedophile to pose as a 14-year-old girl to befriend children. Cyber bullying is another problem, with some youngsters having committed suicide as a result.
A 2010 survey by the University of Maryland discovered that many young people are completely addicted to social media networking. Messaging services and the Internet act as their primary links to the outside world, and they feel isolated without them. Facebook and texting are now the principal media through which young people communicate with friends and family and organize social activities, so without them a person could become a social outcast.
As of 2011, Facebook claimed to have 750 million active users worldwide, of which 50 percent logged in on any given day. Between them, they logged around 700 billion minutes each month, each generating on average 90 items of content. An average user had 130 Facebook friends. Around 30 percent of users resided in the U.S., and the majority of users accessed the system via mobile devices. According to a survey conducted by software developers RJMetrics, Twitter had 75 million user accounts at the end of 2009, generating 6.2 million new accounts each month, although 80 percent of account holders had tweeted less than 10 times.
By Carole Simm, eHow Contributor