As of 2017, there are an estimated 39 million social media users across the United Kingdom alone whereby approximately 81% of them logging into various social media apps or websites every day. Most avid users are considered ‘young people’, with 96% of 16-24-year-olds using such networking sites. Hence, one of the biggest target audiences in this ever-evolving cyber platform is students.
Maybe it is the findings above that lead us to believe the popular notion that social media is a late 20th or even early 21st century concept. However, through its usage of both a flexible and vague definition, social media has its roots dating back to the end of the 1960s.
Long before websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which were all established in the earlier part of the noughties, former sites included GeoCities (1994), Live Journal (1999) and Friendster (2002). The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (better known as the APRANET) cemented the foundations of what later became the Internet in 1969, and helped shape the perception of ‘social media’ through its 1982 handbook, Getting Started Computing at the AI Lab. Yet, even with all this in mind, it is undeniable to say that social media, and all that it entails through its creation and facilitation of sharing and uploading, is far more pivotal now than it has ever been.
Through its usage of both a flexible and vague definition, social media has its roots dating back to the end of the 1960s
With the expression of such a vast amount of user-generated content uploaded every minute, including digital photographs, videos and text posts, accessibility to new interests, careers and news articles from around the globe can reach your smartphone or laptop instantly. Viral content – most certainly a humorous biological analogy – spreads rapidly from one person to the next with some users hoping to ‘Break the Internet’. Therefore, it may be noted by observers that social media can help improve not only an individual’s idea of connecting with their family, friends and community, but that there is accessibility when it comes to educational sites and keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and services.
Popular apps such WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram all have over 100,000,000 registered users each, and so it is unsurprising that the topic of social media, its responsibilities, and its controversies are so fascinating to researchers. One particular downfall is the increase of concerns over cyberbullying and online harassment. In November 2016, NObullying stated that around half of all young adults have been cyberbullied. This follows the general trend over the last several years given the sheer volume of users as well as heavy social media use, especially when it comes to the more susceptible generation.
Unlike industrial media, an example being a printed and distributed slanderous article, there is feel of permanence when such words are uploaded online. Although they can, perhaps, be edited or tweaked on their platform, this type of communication has infinite and immediate effect. Dissimilar to a physical copy, online versions can be hashed and rehashed through the years, and with platforms such as Google, it is almost effortless to find posts about particular individuals or discussions. The frequency and reach of this content is unlike any other, and this can be daunting if used improperly and maliciously.
Viral content – most certainly a humorous biological analogy – spreads rapidly from one person to the next with some users hoping to ‘Break the Internet’
Efforts are being made to understand what has led to such frequent social media access. For example, the 2018 #Likeminded series on the BBC, have likened excessive usage to a compulsion, arguing traits exhibited are similar to that of those with an addiction to gambling or alcohol. Despite this view, opinions differ across the spectrum. Although there has been online speculation that research conducted is not conclusive as to whether social media addiction is real (as detailed by Forbes Contributor, Tom Ward), others are secure in their beliefs that technological addictions can and do occur, and contain some of the same components that we would associate with chemical dependencies.
It is worth noting that research has found some footing in the likelihood of certain people relying on social media psychologically and to their own detriment. While this is not yet considered a recognised mental health disorder, it will be interesting to see whether this proposal finds greater evidence in the future.
Statista recorded that daily media usage of global internet users amounted to 135 minutes last year, which is an 11 minute increase than that displayed in 2016. And yet, in 2017, the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale was first used in Hungary that aimed to measure addiction in young people. The survey found 4-5% of Hungarian youths were ‘at risk’, reporting low self-esteem and higher levels of depression when using social media more frequently than their peers. However, even though this pertains to show that only a small minority may actually have a problematic relationship with social media, its heavy use across the world could indicate a potential wider problem later on, if safeguards are not adhered to and controls are not in place. One problem may be real life social isolation from peers due to social media dependence.
In 2017, the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale was first used in Hungary that aimed to measure addiction in young people.
With structured studies being released on both sides of the addiction/ not-addiction spectrum regularly, it is predictable – and somewhat ironic – that websites themselves have started their own discussions on the topic. How to treat social media addiction (The Washington Post) 15 Ways to Combat your Social Media Addiction (Thought Catalog) and Addicted to Social Media? (Psychology Today) are all but a few genuine text posts you can finding when Googling the matter.
The study above begs the question: is enough going to be done, or already being done, in preventing excessive use? Sites such as Instagram have recently implemented an ‘All Caught Up’ feature, in which anyone who scrolls through every photograph posted within the last 48 hours can see that they have done so. This was thought to curb potential addiction in completionist Instagram users, yet forums have expressed concern that this is not so much to do with general networking addiction but more so to combat complaints against non-chronological feeds.
With our online lives becoming increasingly trendy and important to ‘fit in’, it may be time to accept that we are at a cross-road between reasonable and unreasonable behaviour. And maybe more should be done in helping those additionally receptive to online platforms understand exactly what that behaviour entails.