In this two part article Clare Brown examines recent developments and potential risks of various social media websites. She opens with the most popular sites Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.Click here to read part 2 of this article.
There can't be many people who haven't heard of Facebook. If you aren't one of the 1.26 billion users worldwide, they are rarely out of the press. Even our language has assimilated Facebook-inspired changes in meaning; 'to friend' - to connect with another facebook user, or 'to poke' - to get the electronic attention of a friend.
A quick search for 'facebook' in the last 6 months within the UK broadsheets alone finds nearly 3000 hits. From the tabloids to the financial press, stories cover issues such as its recent 10 year anniversary, privacy and harassment, brand marketing/advertising revenue, last year's stock market listing, and recent acquisitions of other social media services.
The mobile messaging service, Whatsapp, is the latest technology company to join Facebook. Their acquisition cost a record breaking £11.4bn. According to commentators, Facebook bought this service because mobile messaging is the fastest-growing area for customers and advertisers. The statistics explain the vast amount of money they have invested: 84% of smartphone users access Facebook from their device and an 89% increase in Facebook messaging in the 16-19 age range (between Jan-Sept 2013). The combination of Whatsapp user information and Facebook's commercial partners means the potential for advertising revenue is vast.
People are generally aware of Facebook risks because it has been available for some time. Inevitably, in the past 10 years everything that will go wrong has gone wrong. From divorce petitions, employment tribunals, fraping, illegal and 'trolling' behaviour, people affected by Facebook communications have helped shaped the terms and conditions found on many copycat social media sites. If the user is in any doubt about whether their status is appropriate, they should keep in mind that 65% of recruiters look at Facebook to vet recruits.
Whereas Facebook is used by employers for personal background information, LinkedIn is almost exclusively used for professional purposes. It is one of the few social media sites positively encouraged by many firms because of its networking and information sharing possibilities. With 259 million members and an excellent reputation it is one of the strongest and most professional social media sites.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter have experienced difficulties in parts of the world where there are internet restrictions but it seems LinkedIn is the exception. LinkedIn has gathered four million users in China and have recently launched a China-focused, Chinese-language site. This is a great achievement for a non-Chinese social media site.
LinkedIn has recently come under fire for their laissez faire attitude to harassment. Many social media sites have taken steps against problematic users. However, although you can report a user for spam on LinkedIn, there is no block button. They say they 'are working on a setting that will allow you to block another member from viewing your profile'. This development will come as a relief to those affected by inappropriate online behaviour.
Twitter is often seen purely in the context of social media. After seven years however, this microblogging site has become, for its 241 million monthly active users, not only a place for people to chat and convey personal information but an important media outlet in its own right.
Many news stories are broken on Twitter first. High profile people are also generating their own Twitter announcements, which are then taken up by the mainstream media. There have been issues regarding the veracity of news related tweets so researchers are developing a lie detector which will analyse social media rumours. It will also identify whether accounts have been created just to spread false information. It seems the media aspect of Twitter has become as important as the social.
Twitter has also been the subject of the news. A combination of safe distance, online anonymity, controversial viewpoints and human nature has resulted in outbreaks of disturbing hostility directed at various vulnerable classes of people. Every social media network has collided with the so-called internet troll and Twitter claims to work hard to protect users but has come under increasing pressure to do more.
There has been some progress. Their new 'report offensive tweet' and block buttons are promptly and effectively making offensive accounts disappear. Someone set up a Twitter account claiming to be murderer Jon Venables recently but it was shut down and is currently under police investigation. The police are also more prepared and equipped to deal with online harassment and stalking claims through legislation like the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
Despite the negative press, for most users the Twitter experience remains a positive one, and is popular and useful way of sharing information. One of Twitter's fastest growing user bases is young people, most of whom are leaving Facebook to avoid their parents. Twitter is proposing a new Facebook style layout, so will the parents move with them?
If you haven't ventured beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, other social media sites can be confusing. The second part of this article looks at Instagram, FourSquare, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat and Ask.FM.