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Social Media – a useful tool?

Social media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare – hashtags, retweets, likes – these are the buzzwords that have been doing the rounds over the last few years. If you haven’t been exposed to these words yet, one wonders where you’ve been.

What is social media? Social media essentially refers to the interaction of individuals and communities where the creation of content relies on them to share and exchange ideas and information, based on mobile and web technologies. Social media has changed the way we all communicate.

If social media is a sharing of information and ideas, how does it differ from what has been termed ‘traditional media’, that is television, radio and newspapers? Differences between traditional and social media have been pinned to the frequency, reach, usability and immediacy of the medium. In the past, communities have turned to traditional media to get their information. Traditional media has been relied upon to inform, educate and to influence opinion. The advent of mobile technology and ease of access to the internet has seen many people migrate to social media, or ‘new media’, for their news because of the immediacy factor. Nowadays, breaking news can be received immediately. The recent earthquakes that shook America saw people in different parts of the continent knowing (about the earthquake) 30 seconds before it hit their part of town – this example highlights the immediacy. More and more people are spending time on social networks, and recently, the growth of social media has seen content creators go beyond simply sharing, but also go on to build careers and bring in income and build reputations.

For all the good of social media, there have been criticisms however; most notable is the exclusivity debate. This has seen many pundits citing the exclusivity of the medium – even though the advancement of mobile technology has seen many more people utilising the internet – the reliability of information presented has also been a factor, ownership of media content and whether or not one makes meaningful connections on these sites are others.

For all the negatives, the positives come out tops; social media has opened up the internet to a wider audience and has allowed for the reconnecting of friends who had lost contact. No longer is the internet only available to the select few.

Mostly, social media has been associated with the positive outcomes, even though it is not always the case. Cases of cyber-bullying, etc and the apparent decrease in human face-to-face interaction have been seen as a direct result of these social media sites.

For whatever reason you use social media, one thing is clear, our way of communicating has been changed forever.