22 March 2012 is the day that a light bulb was switched on for me. As I sat at
the breakfast table on that morning, my fourteen-year-old daughter joined me for
our cereal and toast. She asked if I had heard the big news. Having just
returned from my morning bike ride where not a lot of news flashes are
announced, I admitted I hadn’t – and also thought that the big news may be as
important as who was about to leave Home and Away.
daughter announced that Malcom Naden, who had been on the run from the law for seven
years and was one of Australis’s most wanted men, had been captured. This was
indeed big news so I turned on the television to see the news. After going
through several stations, I asked my daughter which channel she had seen the
news on. “Facebook!” was the reply.
the next five minutes I gave my daughter the standard speech about not
believing everything you read on the Internet and make sure you hear news from
a trusted source such as a trained journalist and all the normal parental
advice to arm a child with the tools to go into the big wide world. I am sure
all my daughter heard was blah, blah, blah. Having forgotten about the topic I
went about my morning until sometime later when I heard ‘breaking news’
announced on one of the morning shows. “Malcolm Naden has just been captured,”
announced the host, along with some sketchy details. My daughter said nothing
but the look she gave me said it all.
was the day that I realised social media was not just a social tool but a
source of current information that people were relying on in their daily lives.
Maybe it was time to treat this fad a little more seriously.
are many sites and organisations that claim they started the concept of social
media sites and even though Classmates.com has a strong case from its launch in
1995, I am going to award the tag to the short-lived site called
SixDegrees.com. The concept was based on the hypothesis that any person in the
world is only six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in
the world. What better way to explore this concept than via the Internet?
Although SixDegrees.com only lasted for four years after its launch in 1997, it
triggered many other sites such as Makeoutclub; Cyworld; Friendster; MySpace;
LinkedIn; Flickr and many more. Then came the one. It is hard to believe that
Facebook only launched in February 2004. In just over twelve years, Facebook
has built a community of almost 1.3 billion users and is undoubtedly the most
influential social media site in the world today. Twitter is only ten years old
and has almost 700 million users and to show it is not completely a closed
shop, Instagram only launched in 2010 and already has 300 million people using
downfall of SixDegrees.com has been the success of the largest social media
sites. One of the complaints about SixDegrees.com was that they strongly
encouraged existing users to invite other users and many users saw their inbox
filling with spam from the company. Membership drives gave the site a commercial
feel rather than organically growing a network of users. That seems mild
compared to Facebook which is now a company worth US$50 billion with some
multinationals spending US$100 million a year on Facebook advertising.
that brings up a significant point. Almost half of the users of Facebook (and
probably most social media sites) are in the 18-34 age bracket. With the
Internet starting in Australia in June 1989, anyone in this age bracket has
grown up with the Web just being a normal part of their lives. They are
tech-savvy but their youth and trust in social media makes them prone to the
influence of large corporations who are increasingly using their space to advertise in. Studies have been conducted that show
the use of social media and celebrity endorsements can have a negative
influence on the users of social media sites, with increased alcohol
consumption cited as a major negative of this style of advertising.
one of the 15 million P.Diddy social media followers sees him celebrating with
Ciroc Vodka, they are not immediately aware that he has a US$100 million deal
with the company to be their brand ambassador. This is just one of many deals
that celebrity influencers are cashing in on. The likes of Katy Perry; Justin
Bieber; Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga all have more than 50 million Twitter
followers and can increase sales of a product with a single tweet.
type of trust my daughter showed in 2012 in the news that was delivered via
social media is even stronger with users today and the lines of information and
advertising are increasingly becoming blurred. I can’t help but wonder whether
the increasing integration of advertising in social media sites draws away from
the original purpose of social media which is open, trusted and honest online
communication among individuals.