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Old 04-25-2018, 03:51 PM   #1
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Question Does social media have a positive impact on the world?

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In 2013, a research team at the University of Winchester in England released the findings of a study in which they asked a group of active social media users to refrain from Facebook and Twitter for four weeks. The subjects described dire results. "[I] felt alone and cut off from the world," one volunteer said. "My fingers seem to be programmed to seek out the Facebook app every time I pick up my phone." Another study published in 2014 by researchers at the University of Southern California found that subjects exposed to images of social networking sites, such as the Facebook logo, experienced brain activity similar to that seen in people with addictions to gambling or drugs.

Over the last two decades, the Internet has become widely accessible through personal computers and online mobile devices, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The number of individuals who use smartphones—phones that are capable of accessing the Internet—has increased steadily in recent years. A study by the Pew Research Center in November 2015 found that almost 70 percent of Americans owned a smartphone. Most of these phones feature high-resolution touch screens, web browsers, media playback capabilities, video and camera functions, and Wi-Fi connectivity. The increased use of smartphones has allowed people to spend longer periods of time online.

New media platforms and methods of communication, collectively referred to as social media, have taken advantage of this increased online access, including text and instant messaging, mobile apps, file-sharing services, and a host of other digital platforms and virtual communities. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Tinder—virtual spaces in which people can keep in touch with their friends and colleagues, share video and pictures, find a job, or look for a date—have also become enormously popular.

Young Americans, in particular, use the Internet and social media extensively. A report by the Pew Research Center in 2015 indicated that 93 percent of U.S. teenagers used at least one social media platform, and 71 percent used more than one. The research also showed that 56 percent of teens used the Internet several times a day, with 24 percent using it almost constantly.

Social media has been credited with strengthening people's social ties, fostering political awareness, and even sparking democratic revolutions. But some experts have argued that the impact of social media has been overstated, and critics contend that it might be doing more harm than good. Are the changes brought by social media and social networking websites good for society?

Supporters of social media and social networking sites argue that these platforms have already changed the world for the better, and will continue to do so. Social media, they maintain, provides a novel forum for individuals to express themselves and spread ideas. Social media, supporters argue, has helped facilitate democratic revolutions and encourage political involvement. Some critics who reject social media today, supporters contend, merely refuse to accept change.

Opponents of social media argue that such platforms shorten users' attention spans, encourage self-promotion and self-centeredness, and stunt people's desire and aptitude for engaging in sober debate and reflection. Frequent users, they contend, can suffer from stress and loneliness as a result of social media use. Social networking, critics insist, has not had the transformative effect on politics and activism that supporters claim.

The History of Social Networking
Because the Internet allows large groups of people separated by long distances to communicate instantaneously with each other, it has become a place where people can socialize without ever leaving their homes. Social media is a fairly new phenomenon, dependent on the invention and spread of personal computers and the Internet in the late 20th century. The Internet's potential to connect people socially was recognized early on in its development. In 1978, Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, members of a Chicago computer club, created a means for club members to keep in touch with each other between meetings without talking on the They devised what they called a Computerized Bulletin Board System, often referred to as a BBS, a virtual bulletin board where club members could post information for other members to see on their computers.

The Internet became accessible to more people as personal computers became more affordable and widely used. In the late 1990s, websites such as Classmates.com and SixDegrees.com provided users with a means of connecting online with acquaintances or old friends. Such sites had varying success, but they provided a framework for later, more popular, social networking sites.

In 2003, Friendster debuted. The site allowed people to join if they were invited by other members, creating a social network of friends. Users were able to create detailed profiles to describe themselves and could then browse through the profiles of people in their network—any user who was a friend of any of their friends. One person's network could include thousands of people, and Friendster spread very quickly. The site's popularity faded, however, as more people began to use the site and its servers became overloaded, slowing it down considerably.

Friendster's technical flaws drove large numbers of its users to competitor MySpace. Unlike Friendster, MySpace allowed people to view the profile of any user—not just people in their immediate network of friends. MySpace also allowed users to include music and video on their pages. By 2006, MySpace boasted around 100 million users. MySpace also began advertising heavily, usually by drawing its users' attention to the MySpace pages of featured movies or musicians.

The popularity of Myspace, however, was usurped by a new competitor, Facebook. Founded in 2004 by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg with the help of his roommates, the site's membership was initially limited to Harvard students. Facebook soon began allowing students from other universities to join its network, and opened it to high school students in 2005, and to the general public in 2006. By 2016, Facebook had 1.5 billion users internationally, and 161 million monthly active users in the United States.

Twitter, meanwhile, has risen in popularity alongside Facebook. Launched in 2006, Twitter's defining characteristic was that it actually limited what users could do: Twitter messages—or "tweets"—can be no more than 140 characters in length. Unlike Facebook, which requires that users to verify their friendship or connection in order to become linked, a Twitter user has the ability to "follow" anyone—including individuals outside their normal social circle, such as actors, athletes, and political figures. Twitter has been seized upon by businesses, celebrities, political candidates, and others as a tool for marketing and promotion. By 2016, Twitter numbered an estimated 313 million monthly active users.

In addition to maintaining personal pages on social networking sites, many people have used blogs to share their writing, artistic skills, and general thoughts. The development of so-called apps, or applications—computer programs designed specifically to be used with smartphones—has furthered the popularity of social media. Other social networking platforms include YouTube, with which users can share long-form videos; Vine, in which they can share short movie clips; and Pinterest and Tumblr, which allow users to group and display images they find online. Instagram, one of the more popular social media apps, allows users to take photos with their phones and share them with the public. Snapchat offers similar features, with users sending "snaps," or photos or short videos, directly to their friends. Snaps disappear once viewed, a feature reportedly included to make users feel less self-conscious about what they post. Users on many social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, are able to express their approval of a post by pressing a "like" button underneath it.

Social media apps have become crucial elements of life for many people, especially teenagers, and have led to various phenomena, such as the posting of "selfies"—a photo of oneself—online. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 indicated, for example, that 91 percent of teens had posted a selfie to the Internet. Such photos are often posted in hopes that they will get a high number of likes from other users. "People have become very self-focused as a way to build self-esteem," Judy Ho, a psychologist at Pepperdine University in California, told Teen Vogue contributor Tiffany Perry in March 2016. "They take selfies then edit them, and make them look as flawless as possible as a way to project how they feel, or want to feel, about themselves."

Social Media Has Global Impact in Early 21st Century
Social media has had a major impact on society in recent years, shaping politics, popular culture, and other areas of public life. Various topics "trend" on social media, garnering attention through the use of hashtags—a pound sign (#), also known as a hash, that precedes a post—to group all posts on a particular subject together. Hashtags are often used simply to find and demarcate posts on a particular subject—the name of a particular celebrity in the news, for example—but can also take on meanings of their own. Protest movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, for example, began on social media as the hashtags #occupywallstreet and #blacklivesmatter, respectively.

Indeed, social media has influenced large-scale political movements. Perhaps most significantly, many observers credited social networking with helping to fuel the so-called Arab Spring—a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East in late 2010 and 2011 that led to the relatively peaceful ouster of long-standing dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the outbreak of violence in Libya, Syria, and other countries. Protesters used Facebook and Twitter in Tunisia and Egypt to organize, plan demonstrations, and publicize their movements. "This revolution started on Facebook," Wael Ghonim, a Google employee who helped organize protests in Egypt, told CNN in 2012. "This revolution started…when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating…. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet."

Social media has also influenced many aspects of the entertainment industry. Celebrities use Twitter and Facebook to promote themselves directly, without the help of traditional media outlets. By mid-2016, for example, socialite and reality-television star Kim Kardashian had almost 47 million followers on Twitter. Additionally, thousands of corporations have used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms to advertise products and interact with potential consumers. Such platforms are also regularly used to publicize movies, television shows, sports competitions, and musical performers.

In July 2012, a study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than half of the adults who owned cell phones used them while watching television to look up information about the programs as well as to post comments about them on social media. Many shows—especially live broadcasts, such as sporting events—have attempted to take advantage of such trends by incorporating comments made on Twitter and other platforms into their broadcasts.

Social media has also been an effective tool for politicians. Many observers attributed much of the success of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election campaign to its effective use of social media to raise money and organize local support. Social media has continued to play a key role in political campaigns, including the 2016 presidential race. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in particular, has been noted for his use of Twitter to concisely insult his opponents and espouse his political views. "Trump appears to be on his way to becoming the first major U.S. politician to use [Twitter] in a way that truly shapes—not just amplifies—his message," Washington Post journalist Amy Phillips wrote in December 2015. "He uses his Twitter account to make news, lob attacks or wage threats against those who disagree with him and, seemingly most centrally for Trump, create a community of ever-growing people who appear to agree with him wholeheartedly. It's a dynamic, real-time messaging tool that's under his complete control."

Congress has held hearings on the impact of social media. In 2011, the Senate discussed how various platforms can be used to mobilize relief efforts for natural disasters and other emergencies. The same year, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence heard testimony on the use of social media by terrorist networks, such as Al Qaeda. In 2015, similarly, the House Subcommittee on National Security heard testimony on the use of social media by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamic extremist group, to radicalize people in the United States and encourage them to perpetrate so-called lone wolf terrorist attacks. [See Congressional Testimony on the Use of Social Media in Disaster Response (primary source); House Hears Testimony of Use of Social Media by Terrorists (primary source)]

As social media has reached into nearly every aspect of people's lives, sociologists, psychologists, and public health experts have attempted to analyze how it affects users' brains, personal relationships, and emotional well-being. In January 2015, the Pew Research Center released the results of a study on whether social media use increases stress. "It makes sense to wonder if the use of digital technology creates stress," Keith Hampton, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers University, and other researchers wrote. "There is more information flowing into people's lives now than ever—much of it distressing and challenging. There are more possibilities for interruptions and distractions. It is easier now to track what friends, frenemies, and foes are doing and to monitor raises and falls in status on a near-constant basis. There is more social pressure to disclose personal information."

Supporters Argue: Social Media Is Beneficial Overall

Supporters argue that social networking is a phenomenon that is beneficial overall and has changed the world for the better. Perhaps the greatest measure of social media's success, they contend, is the role it played in ousting undemocratic governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Journalist Peter Beaumont of the British newspaper the Guardian argued in 2011 that "a young woman or a young man with a smartphone" was the "defining" image of the Arab Spring. "The instantaneous nature of how social media communicate self-broadcast ideas, unlimited by publication deadlines and broadcast news slots, explains in part the speed at which these revolutions have unravelled, their almost viral spread across a region," he contended. "It explains, too, the often loose and non-hierarchical organisation of the protest movements unconsciously modelled on the networks of the web."

Indeed, supporters argue that social media can be extremely useful in encouraging people who would not typically be politically motivated to engage in various issues or causes. While such statements are sometimes derided by critics as "hashtag activism" or "slacktivism," defenders insist that such actions really can make a difference. "What is commonly called slacktivism is not at all about 'slacking activists,'" Harvard University sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci wrote on her blog in 2012. "[R]ather it is about non-activists taking symbolic action—often in spheres traditionally engaged only by activists or professionals (governments, NGOs, international institutions.). Since these so-called 'slacktivists' were never activists to begin with, they are not in dereliction of their activist duties. On the contrary, they are acting, symbolically and in a small way, in a sphere that has traditionally been closed off to 'the masses' in any meaningful fashion."

Social media has many other benefits, advocates contend, including potential to assist during times of catastrophe. During and after the terrorist attacks that rocked Paris, France, in November 2015, supporters note, people took to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to communicate to loved ones that they were safe, or to offer refuge to people stranded in the city. "The attacks which ravaged the French capital yesterday showed how social media can also play a much more positive role," Forbes contributor Federico Guerrini wrote. "Facebook activated its Safety Check tool…to help people in areas affected by a disaster let their Facebook friends know they are safe. Twitter was also helpful: residents used the hashtag #porteouverte [open doors] to offer shelter to people stranded in the city."

Advocates of social networking contend that sites like Facebook and Twitter have brought people closer together. "It has never been easier to make friends than it is right now, mainly thanks to social networking sites," writer Dave Parrack argued on the technology website MakeUseOf.com in 2012. "Just a few decades ago it was pretty tough to connect with people, unless you were the overly outgoing type able to make conversation with anyone at a party. The rise of mobile phones helped change this, connecting people in a new way, but then social networks sprang up and the whole idea of friendship changed once more and for ever."

Supporters maintain that social networking sites increasingly function as a refuge where people can relax with their friends and family. "This is where social media become a powerful social force in the modern sphere," Taso Lagos of the University of Washington wrote in the Seattle Times in 2012. "Because we live in a world of constant anxiety and stress about our lives, our careers, the planet and the fate of our families and friends, trusted sites like Facebook and Twitter are places we turn to relieve this tension and allow us to live and express our humanity." Social media, he argued, are "the community centers of the future."

Such sites provide many valuable benefits, defenders argue, including enhancing people's sense of self-worth. The act of taking and posting selfies, they contend, helps people exert control over their self-image and the way they are viewed. "The harshly judged practice of self picture taking," Huffington Post contributor Molly Fosco wrote in March 2014, "while perhaps excessive or annoying at times, can actually be a really simple way to feel really good about yourself…. Although our selfies might be veiled in narcissism, self-obsession or boastfulness I think that for many it's a genuine attempt to boost self esteem. Seeing a close up picture of your own face and willingly showing it to thousands of people with one click is a form of self-confidence that I don't think should be quickly dismissed."

Supporters of social media discount many of the fears typically raised by opponents, noting that it is common for new technology to stir criticism. In the late 19th century, they note, some observers predicted that the telephone would severely damage interpersonal relationships, just as detractors of social media do today. The telephone "was going to bring down our society," Megan Moreno of the University of Wisconsin in Madison told the New York Times in 2012. "Men would be calling women and making lascivious comments, and women would be so vulnerable, and we'd never have civilized conversations again." She added, "When a new technology comes out that is something so important, there is this initial alarmist reaction."

Opponents Argue: Social Media is Not Beneficial Overall
Opponents of social networking argue that such sites are gradually eroding many essential aspects of communication and socialization. "The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation," New York Times commentator Bill Keller argued in 2011. "The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet—complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy—are things that matter."

Indeed, critics contend, the rise of social networking has coincided with an erosion of the quality of conversation. "As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers," MIT psychology professor Sherry Turkle wrote in the New York Times in 2012. "To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters."

Opponents argue that social media can contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan in 2013, they note, found that college-aged users felt worse the more they used Facebook. Because people's Facebook personas are often curated to make their lives seem fun or perfect, critics argue, browsing social media can contribute to feelings of inadequacy. "When you're on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing," co-author John Jonides, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, told National Public Radio in 2013. "That sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook."

Social media, critics contend, can lead people to obsess about themselves and their self-image to the point where it can be harmful. People need to look deeper for self-worth, they contend, than achieving "likes" by posting selfies on social media. "[I]if you've just spent half an hour editing a photo by blurring around your eyes with one app, adding eyelashes with another, then changing the colors with a third," Teen Vogue contributor Tiffany Perry wrote in March 2016, "chances are you're giving too much merit to how others perceive you."

Other critics claim that the impact of social media on political phenomena like the Arab Spring has been overstated. New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell noted in 2011 that many revolutions took place throughout history before the advent of social networking. "People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other," he wrote. "How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place."

Opponents also assert that promoting political or social causes on social media has little real impact other than to make the person making the post feel good about themselves. In 2013, for example, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a U.N. organization that raises money to help and protect children throughout the world, ran an ad campaign with a slogan that read "Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio." "Slacktivism's inherent laziness disqualifies it as a real agent of progress because it does not possess the enthusiasm necessary for change," contributor Elias Tavaras wrote for the Hill in January 2016. "How can a post on Facebook inspire necessary action, especially when sitting down on a comfy computer chair? Indeed, the passion one may feel disappears, with a simple scroll or is drowned out by the other slacktivist posts."

Critics charge that social media users are in danger of having their online personas co-opted by corporations eager to collect the information users share and employ it for marketing purposes. Robert Barry of the pop culture website The Quietus argues that social media is turning people into "branded products." "Online businesses which seem to be promising something for nothing—from social networking to file sharing—are really offering you, their audience, as a readymade and fully packaged item for purchase," he argued, "be that by the ghost of advertising's future, or the investor whose faith gives that ghost substance."

Opponents Argue: Social Media Is Not Beneficial Overall
Opponents of social networking argue that such sites are not beneficial overall and that they gradually erode many essential aspects of communication and socialization. "The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation," New York Times commentator Bill Keller argued in 2011. "The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet—complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy—are things that matter."

Indeed, critics contend, the rise of social networking has coincided with a decline in the quality of conversation. "As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers," MIT psychology professor Sherry Turkle wrote in the New York Times in 2012. "To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters."

Opponents argue that social media can contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan in 2013, they note, found that college-aged users felt worse the more they used Facebook. Because people's Facebook personas are often curated to make their lives seem fun or perfect, critics argue, browsing social media can contribute to feelings of inadequacy. "When you're on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing," co-author John Jonides, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, told National Public Radio in 2013. "That sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook."

Social media, critics charge, can lead people to obsess about themselves and their self-image to the point where it can be harmful. People need to look deeper for self-worth, they contend, than achieving "likes" by posting selfies on social media. "[I]if you've just spent half an hour editing a photo by blurring around your eyes with one app, adding eyelashes with another, then changing the colors with a third," Teen Vogue contributor Tiffany Perry wrote in March 2016, "chances are you're giving too much merit to how others perceive you."

Other critics claim that the impact of social media on political phenomena like the Arab Spring has been overstated. New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell noted in 2011 that many revolutions took place throughout history before the advent of social networking. "People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other," he wrote. "How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place."

Opponents also assert that promoting political or social causes on social media has little real impact other than to make the person making the post feel good about themselves. In 2013, for example, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a U.N. organization that raises money to help and protect children throughout the world, ran an ad campaign with a slogan that read "Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio." The point of the campaign, UNICEF explained, was not to disparage "likes" but to encourage more active support, such as contributing money to buy vaccines. "Slacktivism's inherent laziness disqualifies it as a real agent of progress because it does not possess the enthusiasm necessary for change," contributor Elias Tavaras wrote for the Hill in January 2016. "How can a post on Facebook inspire necessary action, especially when sitting down on a comfy computer chair? Indeed, the passion one may feel disappears, with a simple scroll or is drowned out by the other slacktivist posts."

Critics charge that social media users are in danger of having their online personas co-opted by corporations eager to collect the information users share and employ it for marketing purposes. Robert Barry of the pop culture website The Quietus argues that social media is turning people into "branded products." "Online businesses which seem to be promising something for nothing—from social networking to file sharing—are really offering you, their audience, as a readymade and fully packaged item for purchase," he argued, "be that by the ghost of advertising's future, or the investor whose faith gives that ghost substance."

The Future of Social Media
Despite concerns, it is likely that social media, in one form or another, will continue to grow, evolve, and become even more integrated into daily life. Some users have found it helpful to occasionally "unplug," and take a several-day break from social media. In 2015, a study by the Danish Happiness Institute found that individuals who stopped using Facebook for a week felt less stressed and more productive. Because social media has become such a vital part of everyday life, however, many users find that, in the long-term, engagement is helpful professionally and personally. In the meantime, research on the social and psychological effects of social media will likely continue.
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