Facebook, which surpassed MySpace in 2008 as the largest social-networking site, now has nearly 500 million members, or 22 percent of all Internet users, who spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on the site. Facebook users share more than 25 billion pieces of content each month (including news stories, blog posts and photos), and the average user creates 70 pieces of content a month. There are more than 100 million registered Twitter users, and the Library of Congress recently announced that it will be acquiring — and permanently storing — the entire archive of public Twitter posts since 2006.
In Brandeis’s day — and until recently, in ours — you had to be a celebrity to be gossiped about in public: today all of us are learning to expect the scrutiny that used to be reserved for the famous and the infamous.
Information in society, however, is greatly influenced by global corporations' messages and other types of communication mechanisms. Global media, global corporations, word-of-mouth, and social communications over the internet, all help to create such focal points in a society and in turn the creation of social conventions.
“In general, the worries over cyber-bullying and sexting have overshadowed a look into the really nuanced things about the way technology is affecting the closeness properties of friendship,” said Jeffrey G. Parker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, who has been studying children’s friendships since the 1980s. “We’re only beginning to look at those subtle changes.”
The question on researchers’ minds is whether all that texting, instant messaging and online social networking allows children to become more connected and supportive of their friends — or whether the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time.
Dr. Moreno’s early research looked at adolescents who displayed evidence of risky behaviors on public MySpace profiles, posting photos or statements that referred to sexual activity or substance abuse. E-mails were sent to those adolescents suggesting that they modify their profiles or make them private.
Girls were more likely to respond than boys, Dr. Moreno found, and sexual material was more likely than alcohol-related material to be removed.
Her current research, by contrast, approaches social media as a window, an opportunity to understand and improve both physical and mental health. In a study of the ways college students describe sadness in status updates on their Facebook profiles, she showed that some such expressions were associated with depression in students who completed clinical screening tests.
Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.
Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.
For her coming book, “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., interviewed more than 400 children and parents about their use of social media and cellphones. Among young people especially she found that the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed: a series of profiles to be sculptured and refined in response to public opinion. “On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are,” she explained. “But because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance. Your psychology becomes a performance.”
Second, pressure to improve one's appearance is a common theme transmitted by the media. Bolstering insecurity about personal appearance is a commercially motivated practice to market beauty aids. Finally, the possibility that social norms encourage humility about physical qualities cannot be overlooked. It may be considered socially unacceptable to express vanity about one's appearance.
At least two kinds of critiques people make of media content should be considered. First, people are sensitive and critical toward the media reflection of reality, especially the portrayal of their own reference groups. When groups in the media are absent or are portrayed unrealistically, audience members who share characteristics with those persons (e.g. gender or ethnicity) may be dissatisfied.
With their power to frame, define, and neglect aspects of the social world, the mass media are a principal social and cultural institution. The central position of media in everyday life ensures that symbols distributed through the media become points of focus and interaction in the population. Imagery is contested and criticized, however, by groups and individuals. Ethnic, religious, age, and gender groups struggle to influence society's values, myths, symbols, and information through the media (Gans 1972); individuals ignore, devalue, and criticize media images (Lang and Lang 1981).
Whom you choose to follow on Twitter is key to the quality of information you receive. When news of the H1N1 swine flu outbreak surfaced in late April, many people on Twitter spread panic and misinformation about the virus. While media reports highlighted these negative aspects, scientists and science journalists were sharing links to more accurate and useful information. The Centers for Disease Control used Twitter to share regular updates about the outbreak, including links to guidance on controlling the virus's spread.
MySpace, Facebook, Live Journal, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, hi5, Cyworld, Wretch (Taiwan), Orkut (Brazil), Baidu (China), and thousands of other social media sites make this content instantly available worldwide (except, of course, in those countries that block or filter these sites). Thus, not just particular features of particular subcultures but the details of the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people who make and upload their media or write blogs became public.
What was ephemeral, transient, unmappable, and invisible became permanent, mappable, and viewable. Social media platforms give users unlimited space for storage and plenty of tools to organize, promote, and broadcast their thoughts, opinions, behavior, and media.