The Evolution of Social Media

The Evolution of Social Media

Social media was originally designed to connect friends and family by sharing information and content from our day-to-day lives in a quick, accessible way. Although this may have paved the groundwork, its roots have evolved rapidly since the 20th century.

The invention of email launched online communications into reality. As online innovations progressed, social sites began to develop. With the launch of Six Degrees in 1997, the platform allowed users to create profiles and befriend one another on the world wide web, sending messages and posting on boards, to see connections with other users on the site. Social media began as a simple, innocent concept. An amazing innovation by which people could connect and exchange information, conversation, and ideas.  

As Six Degrees peeked, other platforms were developed with similar ideas. By 2004, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook would become the world’s largest social platform. Initially created as a way for Havard students to connect, it quickly expanded to other schools throughout the country.  By 2006, it was accessible to anyone with a valid email address and an age requirement of 13 or older.

From 2005 to 2008 MySpace dominated the social networking atmosphere. It was originally found as an online destination for aspiring musicians and bands to share their music. However, as social media grew in popularity, MySpace merged into a complex site where users had the opportunity to create profiles, post blogs, music, and more. 

Expanding beyond sharing content with close friends and family,  it became a collaborative space for people to connect, collaborate, and learn across the globe.

As social media progressed in the early 2000s, competition arose and drastically changed the course of social networking as we know it today.  Social media truly lived up to its alternative name, social networking, when LinkedIn came onto the scene in 2003 allowing prospective employees and employers and colleagues to engage and communicate online in a more professional manner. Youtube launched in 2005, allowing for individuals to share video content seamlessly, appealing to younger audiences. Twitter followed shortly thereafter in 2006, as a platform less focused on friendships and social interaction, and more about following real-world topics, news, and conversations that people cared about. Instagram was met with wide success in 2010, 

Initially only available as an app, it was exclusive to the budding generation of smartphone users. After just 18 months, the triumphant platform was acquired by Facebook amplifying its potential to prosper.

At the start of a new millennium, Google Ads and Analytics led to a new era for marketing and advertisements. Platforms discovered that by filling users’ feeds with advertisements based on their interests, companies could reach a vast consumer base, promoting their businesses more efficiently than ever. 

Today’s social media giants control more than half of the internet advertising market, collecting a vast amount of information and data about its users in order to tailor its content for optimal user experience.

“Taking a page from Big Tobacco's playbook,” (Kendall, 2020), IT giants discovered that they can utilize users’ digital footprints to keep their attention and increase the time being spent on their devices. By creating endless feeds, social media began to infiltrate individuals’ daily lives, uprooting routines, sleep habits, the way people communicate via messenger apps, received their news, and more.   

By 2014, social media users uncovered the true power of social media in a remarkable way. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenged paved the way for charitable organizations to increase their funding and for individuals to advocate for causes and research worldwide. With its success, it ignited a means to invoke change.  

As the call to action for activism in different communities continued to build online, the construct of social media for social justice surfaced.  Hashtags were created as a way to categorically arrange the information on these infinite online platforms, in order for other users to participate in the conversations and topics, no matter their location in the world.  

Igniting a pivotal turning point for social media, platforms soon began to metamorphose from a passive means by which people could leisurely scroll through their platforms, post updates on their daily lives, and check in on those around them, to a battleground of political and social discourse.   

In many ways, these amazing innovations and the insurmountable rates at which they have grown have taken a tremendous toll on our society... 

According to a report from the GlobalWedIndex, the average person in 2017 had 7.6 active social media accounts. By 2019, the average time spent on a social media site was 144 minutes per day, an 62% increase since 2012 (Broadband Search, 2020). It has become increasingly more complicated to separate daily life from digital noise.  Consequently, it has become increasingly more difficult for social media giants to safely manage their platforms in the wake of misinformation, data breaches, cybercrimes, and more. Perhaps this year will be a wake-up call for us all. To consider the true power of social media as we know it, and at what cost?