2.2.1 Influences on people as individuals

As any new change social media has some advantages and some disadvantages. It is easy to see just one side, but nothing is black and white, so we would like to present both.

Social Media: Advantages and disadvantages (krismarfil)

Positive influences:

  • Spreading messages out there in minutes: It is hard to conceal that something happened because people saw it and can share it on their social media. “What happens in Vegas, stay on social media!”
  • Meeting new people with similar interest. It is easy to find groups that have a similar interest and join them.
  • Speedy communication: Communication has never been this fast before.
  • Geeting fast feedback: Either business wise or personal, you can put it out there and people will tell you what they think.
  • Getting answers: Asking questions and getting answers from help communities, teachers or other people.
  • Global marketing: You can now market and sell your products from home.

Negative influences:

  • Waste of time: People spend enormous time just browsing and searching social media, with no real intention or purpose.
  • Personal details get revealed: If you are not careful with your personal information, it can be exposed to everybody. And revealing personal information on social media makes you more vulnerable to crimes like identity theft, stalking, etc.
  • Harassment: You can easily become a target of a cyberbullying or harassment.
  • Impact on productivity: Many companies have blocked social media in the offices since the work productivity suffered.
  • Addiction: Feeling that you are the center of attention can be a soothing for every ego, but it can be also addictive.

Marc Maron: The Social Media Generation Animated (Jess the Dragoon)

2.2.2 Influences on society

Global spread of social media has enabled increased access to information and education to millions of people, which empowered them to become part of political processes in their societies. Voices that could not be heard in governmental and other mainstream media are suddenly given a chance to address wide audiences. Even people not keen on active political participation have become political actors by supporting and sharing those newly empowered voices on social media. This new dynamic puts unprecedented pressure on all governments for democratisation, transparency, and accountability. Social media offers infrastructure to citizen’s initiatives to act, where governments fail, and for governments to work more efficiently with the help of their citizens, may it be on eradicating poverty, fight against corruption, protection of human rights, etc.

With its wide and instant reach, social media is a catalyst of social unrest everywhere where a government is unable or unwilling to listen to its citizens. It can even take down long-lasting authoritarian regimes, as we could see with the incredibly fast spread of Arab spring revolution (starting in Tunisia in December 2010). Victories of perceived underdogs Barack Husein Obama and Donald Trump in US presidential elections in 2008 and 2016 showed us the impact of an organised and targeted campaign on social media can have on political processes in stable democracies as well. In the case of the latter even in total opposition of a vast majority of mainstream media.

Does social media have the power to change the world? (devschooluea)

Newfound space for political influence, however, brings to us substantial risks of political misinformation and abuse in social media as well. We receive crazy amounts of news via social media and it is impossible to reflect on the quality of so much information. All social media is new, so there is little chance to check long term credibility of the source. Such an environment is prone to exposure to misleading and even completely false information – “fake news”, sensationalism and with it populism. With no authority to trust on what is true and what fake, we are inclined to believe the information that is closest to our way of thinking.

In a big chunk of the world freedom of speech is still limited and that counts for social media as well. In China, the state imposed the so-called “Great China Wall”, which does not allow you to seek information on free Tibet, Tiananmen square massacre,… on social media. In many countries (from Turkey to North Korea) any social media is blocked at least from time to time, so the impact of them on societal changes is limited accordingly.