The ever-changing social media: how we look at it today

When talking about ICT, we tend to lose the sense of time. Although Twitter only existed since 2006 and Facebook 2004 – for people who now use social media everyday – life without it seems like a very distant world.

In the past few years, our online networking behavior has changed so significantly. We have abandoned MSN massager and pretty much forgotten MySpace, now the rise of Pinterest, Tumblr and others are again stealing attentions from our old friends like Facebook.

Ellison and Boyd acknowledged this ever-changing nature of social media, and recognized it as a big challenge for scholars. Given the time and effort one needs to put into a research project – how to keep the work relevant and up-to-date has became a major concern. Regardless of the changes in technology itself, even our attitude has shifted too.

For example, after the Arab Spring, there has been a lot of research linking Twitter to the revolution. Then a few years later, scholars dug deeper into the data and pointed out we may have placed too much hope on social media. In fact, twitter penetration in Egypt before the uprisings wasn’t as great as we once thought, and many tweets regarding the movement were from outside that region.

Now that social media is no longer an entirely new thing, we can talk about it in a more realistic way. Instead of writing a memo on how to use social media to overthrown a regime in three days, it makes more sense to take a deeper look at it and examine who uses what and how they’re using it. Eszter Hargittai’s research found students with different backgrounds tend to select different social media services. For example, White students are more likely to use Facebook while more Hispanic students prefer MySpace. Henry Jenkins made a similar proposition when discussing YouTube and its user-generated contents by stating “a participatory culture is not necessarily a diverse culture.”

In this sense, our social activities online are more like an extension from real life, and therefore less groundbreaking than it could have been. People still tend to build and stick to their own circle, although the perk of ICT is actually to break boundaries.

None of these is to despise social media - it indeed brings us closer, makes information more accessible, in many ways changed our lives and even has the potential to facilitate fundamental social changes. But the bottom line is: tools are tools. The power always comes from our own minds.

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