Everything You Need to Know about Social Media
We are living through a revolution. This revolution is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, bigger than the automotive revolution, bigger than the great space race. This revolution isn’t just changing how we do things, or where we can go, or how we work. It is fundamentally changing how we communicate with and relate to one another.
Don’t believe me? Consider this: in about the time it takes you to read halfway down this page, more than 700,000 people will have logged on to Facebook, close to 20 million messages will have been exchanged on WhatsApp, almost one million people will have swiped left or right on Tinder, 347,222 will have tweeted on Twitter, and Snapchat users will have shared 527,760 photos. And those figures don’t include the Instagram posts and YouTube video views (another million total), or the 150 million emails that raced through cyberspace in the last minute. Before the day is out, some 40 percent of the entire US adult population will have gotten most of their news from Facebook. And in the span of twenty-four hours, a majority of American teens will have checked their social media feeds more than one hundred times. Even the highbrow Boston Lyric Opera now offers “tweet seats,” a special section where the audience can use their smartphones to send tweets throughout the performance.
This is social media, and it’s changing everything.
By now, you’ve heard about how ISIS uses social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to recruit terrorists. But social media can also force congressional hearings and a federal investigation—which is exactly what happened
after a group of mothers started a Facebook campaign to express their furor over the $600 price tag for one lifesaving EpiPen. President Donald Trump uses social media, particularly Twitter, to take on the traditional media and communicate directly with people and sometimes pick a fight. At the same time Twitter accounts have been launched by groups of disgruntled federal employees who are challenging the Trump administration, sharing climate change statistics, and leaking internal memos on immigration.
But what can social media do for you? If you are Chris Williams of Hope Mills, North Carolina, social media can save your life.
When Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in October 2016, it unleashed devastating flooding. As rivers overflowed in a matter of hours and even minutes, Afghanistan War vet Chris Williams was trapped at home with his elderly dog in a second-floor converted attic. He had already tried to escape and failed. Instead, he was hit by a falling refrigerator, pulled loose from his kitchen by floodwaters racing through his home. Wet and disoriented, Chris tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through. There was no chance of a water rescue.
Chris’s only link to the outside world was the messages he was exchanging with his brother, Craig, who lives in Austin, Texas, on Facebook’s Messenger app. His cell service was gone, but Facebook’s mobile device app uses data and doesn’t need a cell connection.
As the hours passed, another military vet, Quavas Hart, who had also served in Afghanistan, launched his personal drone to film the flooding and devastation from the air. He posted his video images on Twitter, with the identifying phrase: #HopeMills. At that very moment, as he was communicating with his brother, Craig Williams was also searching Twitter for information on #HopeMills. He saw Hart’s picture of houses underwater, and sent it to his brother on Facebook Messenger, saying, “At least it isn’t this bad.” Chris fired back that the house on the right, with the blue shutters and the light pole, was his. Sitting in Austin, Craig immediately messaged Quavas Hart. To make sure this wasn’t a prank, Quavas flew his drone past Chris’s house again and asked Craig to get his brother to wave. The drone saw Chris’s arm waving.
Hart was about to launch his own boat to go get Chris when in his drone footage, he spotted a Federal Emergency Management motorboat nearby. Hart flew his drone to the boat, spoke to the crew through the drone, and then had
the drone lead them to Chris’s submerged house. Social media—and savvy social media users—saved Chris Williams and his dog, Lana, in what can only be called a high-tech, twenty-first-century miracle. “Insane” was the word Craig Williams used in summing it up to the Washington Post.
After that, who wouldn’t want to be on social media?
When the US Secret Service wanted to repair its tainted image following high-profile security breaches around the White House and amid plunging employee morale, it launched a massive social media campaign on the top sites of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. It created special social media content including behind-the-scenes video and photos; the agency’s Facebook page now includes profiles of its Belgian Malinois canines and announcements of indictments that resulted from Secret Service investigations. In six months, the number of people following the agency on Facebook leaped from 452 to 43,000. Its Twitter account added 50,000 followers, and on average 6 million people view official Secret Service tweets.
If, like I do, you follow politics, you have now witnessed our first social media presidential election. On April 3, 2016, I asked Donald Trump if he will ever stop using Twitter. Here’s what he told me: “It’s like owning my own newspaper.” At that moment, before he became the Republican nominee, Donald Trump had nearly 8 million followers on Twitter. He had another 7 million on Facebook and 2 million on Instagram. “So,” he told me, “I have like sixteen, seventeen million people. That’s like owning the New York Times without the losses. Why should I give it up?” (Just for comparison, as president, Barack Obama might have owned the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today plus a bunch of TV networks. In 2016, his Twitter account had more than 77 million followers, although like Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, a significant number were fake followers or “bots.”)
In fact, Donald Trump’s social media followers outnumbered his primary voters: his vote total in the Republican primaries was 14 million. After his election victory, Donald Trump has kept right on tweeting. After combining the followers of the official Twitter account belonging to the president of the United States with his own private 32 million-plus followers, when this book went to press, he had more than 50 million followers and growing on Twitter.
Twitter and social media more generally are where people who follow politics are going: 75 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 got their presidential debate information not from television networks or newspapers but from three social media sites: Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. And 51 percent of voters of all ages tuned in to social media channels to learn about the debate. The numbers from Twitter alone were stunning: from the day of the first presidential debate until the Election Day eve, more than 1 billion election-related posts were sent on Twitter. On Election Day itself, by 10:00 p.m., 40 million tweets had been sent out in less than twenty-four hours.
Beyond politics, social media is changing our very definition of news. Social media sites are becoming the newspaper front page and the nightly newscast. An October 2016 Rasmussen poll found that almost half of all adults age 40 and under get their news primarily or exclusively from the internet and social media—and more than two-thirds of those age 40 and under have their views heavily influenced by what their family and friends post about politics on social media sites. And at the same time, social media posts are a major source for information and original reporting. The Washington Post routinely runs articles that are composed almost entirely of tweets. Don’t have a reporter on the scene? Upload tweets from witnesses or use someone’s smartphone camera video. Snapchat has started capturing “snaps” from its users and bundling them to create news segments about big events, such as the devastating Louisiana flooding or the terror assault on the campus of Ohio State University in November 2016. In social media, everyone is a potential news source or even a reporter, unchecked and unedited.
This upheaval goes beyond the print and digital press. Livestreaming events on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are pushing aside cable and broadcast television. So great is the reach and importance of social media that some local television personalities are required to post on sites like Facebook and Twitter and are evaluated by their companies on how much social media interest they can generate, completely outside of their on-air reporting or news delivery.
It’s not just our politics and news that social media is changing. Social media has dramatically enlarged and altered our celebrity culture. International pop star Justin Bieber launched his career in 2007 with a homemade online video. Social media made Kim Kardashian a household name, and it’s made her rich. Her posts showing off or endorsing clothes, accessories, and destinations have earned
her hundreds of thousands of dollars. She has become a human, online product placement ad. Is her endorsement really worth all that money? Maybe. Consumers now say they are more likely to buy something endorsed by a YouTube blogging star than by a traditional celebrity.
YouTube’s recent top earner is a Swedish guy, Felix Kjellberg, who calls himself PewDiePie and was making $15 million a year from his extremely popular YouTube channel, “playing video games with your bros.” PewDiePie has more than 53 million subscribers; he can generate more than a million comments for a single video. Even after he was dumped by a corporate partner, Disney, and booted from YouTube’s premium service, for making anti-Semitic jokes in some of his videos, he didn’t lose his regular YouTube subscriber base and will likely continue to make large sums of money. By the way, YouTube’s recent second highest earner is professional prankster Roman Atwood, who has more than 10 million subscribers and earns around $8 million for filming himself pretending to spray people with skunks or making his girlfriend believe that their 3-year-old son had been killed in a fiery ATV accident. Awful.
But this change has a cost for all of us: social media has a dark side. It can ignite rumors and be the source of threats, even violence. At times, it can even feed a collective hysteria reminiscent of the Salem witch trials.
In the immediate aftermath of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, amateur sleuths on social media thought they had identified one of the bombers based on a grainy surveillance photo released by the FBI. Passing unverified information around on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, social media users declared Sunil Tripathi to be bomber number two—who was still on the run. How did they find Tripathi? He was a Brown University student on leave from school and living in Rhode Island. But he had vanished on March 15, a month before the attack. After his disappearance, Tripathi’s family had posted a video on social media asking for help in finding Sunil and asking him to come home. So-called cyber-vigilantes thought they saw a resemblance between the social media posts looking for Sunil and Boston bomber number two. Mainstream journalists at NBC, Politico, and Newsweek began spreading the story after seeing it on social media sites. At one point, “Tripathi” was among the top trending words on Twitter. But Tripathi
was innocent. His body was found a week after the Boston bombing in the waters around Providence, Rhode Island. He had been suffering from depression and had committed suicide. His family was subjected to double grief.
Across social media platforms, there are repeated incidents of threats and hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) examined tweets sent between August 2015 and July 2016. In that 12-month period, it found 2.6 million tweets that included anti-Semitic language. Jewish journalists were frequent targets. When the ADL researchers looked at the Twitter accounts of fifty thousand journalists, they found almost twenty thousand anti-Semitic tweets addressed to them, most coming from just sixteen hundred separate Twitter accounts. Not only do the tweets repeatedly say that these journalists and their families should be shot, gassed, or turned into lampshades, as the Nazis did during World War II, but a significant number of the tweets also include pictures of the individual journalists, which had been Photoshopped to place them inside gas chambers or lying among the dead bodies of Holocaust victims.
And there are the gruesome events that have been brought to viewers live on Facebook and Twitter, such as the Facebook Live broadcast by a French terrorist after he murdered a French police captain and his partner. The broadcast was made from the victims’ home, and in it the terrorist discussed what he should do with their young child, who he was holding hostage. Facebook shut down his account, but ISIS captured the video and posted it. When local Roanoke, Virginia, journalist Alison Parker and her cameraman were killed by a former colleague, the murderer posted a boastful video that he had made of their deaths on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. And when four 18-year-olds brutally attacked an 18-year-old young man with special needs in Chicago, one of them streamed the assault, which included kicking and punching him as he was tied up and cutting into his scalp with a knife, as a real-time video on Facebook Live.
Social media is also making celebrities targets. One study found a rise in violent attackers who were focused on movie, sports, and media celebrities. Although their methodology has been criticized, the study’s authors, J. Reid Meloy, of University of California at San Diego, and Molly Amman, of the FBI, maintain that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are creating the illusion that ordinary people know and have a close relationship with social media stars. Delusional people believe that a screen relationship is actually a per
sonal connection. When a troubled person turns on a social media star, the resulting violence is frequently “angry and personal”; they are seeking retribution for what they believe is a personal wrong.
What Is So Special About Social Media?
By now, you may be longing for the days of the flip phone and dial-up internet. But whatever you may think of social media, one thing is certain: it is not going away. To navigate the twenty-first-century world, we all have to understand social media. It’s where many of our most important political, social, economic, and cultural conversations are taking place. It gives all kinds of people an outlet and sometimes an outsized influence. We need to understand its power and reach, its limitations and manipulations, how to use it, and how to be a savvy consumer of it.
Social media is in many ways the ultimate democratic space. Everyone can have a voice and an audience, simply by uploading a photo or video or typing a few lines and hitting Post. It seems like an electronic meritocracy: put up good content and people, followers, will find you. A US president, member of Congress, Hollywood celebrity, or NFL quarterback gets the same number of characters for his or her tweet as you do. But look behind the curtain: some public figures have professional writers and staff authoring and designing their social media posts.
I’ve been on social media since before it had a name. I started with a blog in 2003, before the advent of Facebook and smartphones, and went from there. I’ve tried every platform, and I’ve seen their power firsthand. I have put up a raw video on Facebook and gotten more viewers than that day’s top-rated program in all of cable TV news. In 2016, my Twitter followers passed the one-million mark. In 2017, my Facebook followers reached 1.2 million. If all this language is new to you, don’t worry, after a couple of chapters, you’ll be speaking like a pro, which is good, because this new world is a “need to know.”
I also believe that no adult needs to be at a disadvantage in the social media world: if you can log on to your computer or text with your phone, you can “do” social media. If you are a complete novice, I’ll help you figure out how and where you want to join—and how to do it safely. If you are already “a little bit social,” I’ll help you learn how to harness the opportunities and benefits of social media and avoid the pitfalls. If you want to move up a level or two, the Level Up sections will give you new ideas
and practical advice. You’ll create a better LinkedIn profile for your job search. You’ll understand what’s going on with Snapchat and who’s on it and why. You’ll learn why Instagram is becoming “the place” to be. You’ll learn how to protect your privacy and what’s really happening to your posts—and those of your family, friends, and coworkers. You’ll learn about personal broadcasting and can debate whether blogging is on the way out. And you’ll be prepared when the next big social media site hits. Along the way, you’ll find a great collection of my favorite social media bloopers and home runs, plus GretaGrams, which help peel back the curtain on the real social media world.
But first the basics. If you are new to social media, this will get you acquainted. If you are already on some of it, consider it a good refresher. (It’s been designed to be as current as possible, but social media sites interfaces—how they look and where some of the tiny icons are—do change regularly. So if a phrase or icon looks slightly different, don’t worry: the concept and how to do what you need to do remains the same.)
Who’s Who and What’s What
In some ways, social media is high school all over again: it’s populated by words like friend, follow, like, and share. It measures popularity and creates cliques. You “friend” people on Facebook—or follow famous people—and “like” their posts. You also follow people on Twitter and “retweet” (share) their comments. You share snaps (a photo or video, often enhanced) on Snapchat and share pins (images and pictures that you have saved) on Pinterest. You “upload” video and “click” on links. If the language makes you roll your eyes, consider this: previous generations had similar reactions to the advent of radio and television. To use a computer, we all had to master the new meaning of mouse, as well as learn about operating systems, applications, and email. Revolutions tend to come with new terminology.
Even the term social media can be challenging to define. I see it as internet communities where people can speak or interact with one another—that would be the social component—and share information. But unlike traditional forms of information sharing, newspapers or TV news programs, everything about social media is customizable and often spontaneous. You choose which sites you want to belong to by creating user accounts. Once you join, you create a profile page—a brief page about yourself—and from there, you build your community. You follow people and organizations of interest to you, you select your friends, you join groups. You select
who you want to get information from, whether it is your best friend from high school, National Public Radio, or Rush Limbaugh, or all three. And you can make changes as often as you want.
Below is a brief guide to the names and highlights of the leading, broad-based social media sites. Later, I’ll discuss how you can use and maximize the benefits of the major social networking sites—and how you can protect yourself. But for now, here’s the quick tour. Please be amazed by the reach of these online gathering points in less than ten years.
Facebook is the grandparent of social media (a large segment of its American users are women around age 50 and above). It was started by a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg, and some friends in his college dorm in 2004 to connect Harvard College’s 6,700 students. By 2006, anyone with a registered email address could join. By 2010, it was global with 500,000 users. Today, the number of active Facebook accounts has passed 2 billion and growing—and these are active users who log on monthly. More than 1.3 billion people log on daily and the average amount of time that they spend on the site is twenty minutes. (Facebook is also more than Facebook. It owns the second most popular social media site, Instagram, as well as the messaging/texting service WhatsApp and Facebook’s own messaging service, Facebook Messenger. In addition, live video can be posted to Facebook using an ability called—appropriately enough—Facebook Live. Facebook Live is also starting to compete with TV by producing original programming.)
When I’ve taken breaks from TV, I’ve kept reporting and covering news via video posted on Facebook.
Who’s using Facebook? Clearly, lots of people. Even though it’s associated with middle aged adults, 91 percent of 15- to 34-year-olds have Facebook accounts and use the site, according to estimates by the statistics compilation website DMR Stats, although for daily or more regular use, most young people prefer sites that their parents aren’t
on. And while Facebook was once primarily for keeping up friendships—reconnecting with high school buddies rather like a real-time, virtual yearbook—and for family postings, it is increasingly becoming the go-to place to get news and for advertisers and marketers to sell items and find new customers.
If there is one social media site to join, Facebook is probably it.
Instagram is the social media equivalent of the old saw, a picture is worth a thousand words—although Instagram has added words to its posts. However, it remains a place to post and share amazing pictures—including with special filters to make them look even better. In summer 2017, 700 million people used Instagram every month; 400 million were on it every day, and 250 million posted their stories, video compilations. If Facebook users are a population bigger than China, daily Instagram users have become a population bigger than the United States. According to DMR stats, about 27 percent of all people living inside the United States use Instagram, while 80 percent of all Instagram users live outside our country. Ninety percent of all Instagram users are under age 35, and the majority are 18- to 24-year-olds. Lots of companies and celebrities have Instagram accounts that they want you to follow so they can show you what they think you should look like. Instagram used to be its own company, until Facebook bought it for $1 billion.
What’s the favorite social media site for former First Lady Laura Bush? Instagram. She even posts cute pictures of her granddaughters there.
I admit it, I am a Twitter addict. I check my feed multiple times per day. It can be awful, and yet at the same time Twitter can be wonderful. Some 313 million others agree, and they are regular Twitter users. Twitter is based around tweets. A tweet is the name that Twitter gave to 140-character bursts of thought, comments, facts, or
pretty much anything that you want, which you can post on Twitter. You can also load video to Twitter and broadcast your own live video with its service Periscope. But at its heart, Twitter remains a word site. And 140 characters is short. How short? The first three sentences of this paragraph are too long to be a tweet.
Where Twitter dominates the social media conversation is in politics, journalism, and sports. You can’t be employed in any of those fields or be an active participant and not be on Twitter. Get an entry-level job working for a congressman or congresswoman, and the first requirement is that you get on Twitter. Love it or hate it, Twitter is not going away.
Around the world, 1.3 billion people have Twitter accounts, 100 million of them are classified as “active users,” who are on the site daily. That’s the equivalent of the population of the Philippines or Ethiopia, the twelfth and thirteenth most populous countries in the world, respectively. This is all the more remarkable because the world’s largest country, China, blocks Twitter. However, about 10 million Chinese are defying the government and using the app by linking to internet servers located outside of China. This allows them to bypass the internal censors. Twitter has some of the most insightful comments and some of the most vicious hatred you will ever read. It’s not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. And it isn’t a good place for kids and teens, even though many school administrators post on Twitter. Large urban and suburban fire and police departments also frequently post breaking information via Twitter.
Many top members of the media set up “ghost accounts” on Twitter. They use these accounts to anonymously keep track of other people’s tweets. Sometimes, they even send snarky messages from these ghost accounts, hoping no one will make the connection and they won’t get caught. I think these accounts are cheap shots.
Want to know what every twenty-something in your office is doing with his or her phone? They are probably on Snapchat. A staggering 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-
olds have Snapchat accounts—broadcast and cable TV’s top-rated shows reach only about 6 percent of the same age group. Snap users, of which there are more than 150 million daily active ones, send more than one billion snaps and watch more than 10 billion snap videos on the app each day. In 2013, Facebook tried to buy Snap for $3 billion, but Snapchat said no. Four years later, an initial public offering placed the company’s opening-day value at around $30 billion. The stock’s price fell after that.
What is Snapchat? The key here is time: Snapchat allows users to send a photo or post a video—a snap—but it disappears ten seconds after it’s opened—unless the recipient makes a copy, then the snap can live on forever. (You can also draw on your pictures or add goofy hats, filters, and other accessories to the photos you send, making it kind of like a collage.) A second hugely popular Snapchat feature is called Stories. Users can post photos and video telling the story of their day, but what they post lasts just twenty-four hours. Yes, if you have quick fingers you can take a picture of the picture and save it, but part of the appeal of Snapchat is its urgency and future disappearance. (Snapchat account owners can now, however, privately save their own favorite snaps they have made in a separate file called Memories.) This may be baffling to some adults. (After all, Facebook has a whole category of reminders called Facebook Memories, which allows its users to share photos that they posted five, six, seven, and eight years ago.) But Snapchat seems to have captured perfectly the desire of young people to live in the moment. Also, unlike all the other major platforms—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—there is no direct interaction. You don’t comment on snaps, you don’t like or dislike them. You just view or watch and then send your own. (But like all these other sites, Snapchat allows followers. People who follow each other can also send private messages to each other.)
Still don’t get it? After Instagram added a Stories-type feature to its platform, 250 million Instagram accounts started using the feature. More recently, the WhatsApp messaging service has transitioned into a Snapchat type of site, allowing users to send photos or video and write or draw on their pictures and video. Facebook Messenger also added a Stories feature to its service. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. (And remember, Facebook owns all three: Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.) To have so many sites offering “stories” is creating a lot of new competition for Snapchat.
Social media star Casey Neistat, who I confess I had never heard of, can send a Snapchat post to one million phones and have 142,000 views in sixteen minutes.
The popularity of stories on all these sites also tells us something else: many people today are interested in “reporting” on their daily lives, and those reports are what their friends and followers want to watch. What this means for the future or the news or sports or other large-scale shared events is now anyone’s guess.
Pinterest is a cross between an online bulletin or idea board and a friendship matching site with a lot of shopping thrown in. It’s designed to be inspirational as well as aspirational. Users pin images from around the internet to their virtual walls on any topic they want, from recipes, diet tips, fashion, and fireplace mantels to drag racing, duck hunting, fishing, and cigars. No topic is too off topic. In this way, users can find new ideas and especially new interests, as well as find other people’s boards to follow. They can also buy items that they see online—it’s possible to buy the shoes you’ve pinned in a photo directly from Nordstrom.
When Pinterest started cataloging its users’ most popular searches in 2015, it found that a top US search item was Harry Potter. In Britain, people were searching for pork pies and broken-glass nails—a manicure style that looks like broken or stained glass shards. Tops in Japan was eggs Benedict. P.S.: According to the statistics website DNR, 11 percent of all Pinterest searches contain a misspelled word. Not unlike some of my tweets!
Pinterest bills itself as a lifestyle site, designed to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.” The majority of American users are women, roughly 85 percent, and their numbers are more than 35 million; 42 percent of all adult women in the United States who are online use Pinterest. (In contrast, only about 6.5 million American men are “pinning.”) Roughly two-thirds of millennials use it, and overall Pinterest has about the same number of active users as daily tweeters, 100 million. As with most of the major sites, you can follow others, and sharing posts on your board is the highest form of “liking.” Top Pinterest posters have two million followers for their accounts. Marketers who have ventured into Facebook and Twitter are trying to get smart about Pinterest. Recent trending topics on Pinterest were banishing back fat, cinderblock gardening, and travel tattoos. But it’s also a place to get information on absentee ballots and raising kids.
Think of LinkedIn as social media for business networking. LinkedIn is your résumé online—except that no one is using plain old résumés any more. Your LinkedIn profile page is your personal brand. It’s where you showcase your abilities and your projects. Reviews and recommendations of you and your work can be posted to LinkedIn. It’s where professionals connect with one another and share knowledge, ideas, and, perhaps most important, post jobs. Because potential employers must pay a fee to post a job listing, you can be certain that the jobs are genuine. LinkedIn has subsections—like Pulse, where specialists in different fields post articles—and groups, where you can connect to other professionals in your field, get the latest on specific trends, and even share advice. You can use it to research companies you might be interested in joining and even monitor staff turnover. It has also started offering online education, called LinkedIn Learning, which has video tutorials on different business-related topics.
Now the downside: if you aren’t up to date on your LinkedIn privacy settings, your boss can see that you are job searching, and others on LinkedIn can see that you have viewed their profiles. So far, more than 130 million people in the United States have a LinkedIn account, and new accounts around the world open at the rate of two per second.
On February 1, 2012, someone named Susan Kennedy invited then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “connect on LinkedIn.” Thirty-nine minutes later, according to one of her emails released by the State Department, Secretary Clinton was asking someone else how LinkedIn works.
In her reply, State Department employee Monica Hanley admits she is not completely certain what LinkedIn is (she uses the tentative “my understanding” in her email), but her reply is on the money.
And Some of the Rest Tumblr
If you’ve never heard of it, a teenager you know has. But while in 2013 about 61 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 said Tumblr was their favorite social site, today their favorite sites are Instagram and Snapchat. Launched in 2007, Tumblr was sold for $1.1 billion in 2013 to Yahoo. It has generated more than 148
billion posts. There are about 23 million Tumblr users in the United States. Tumblr is highly interactive and, unlike other blogsites, which rely largely on written words, Tumblr posts tend to be visual, using photos and video, or just quotes or even chats. As opposed to retweeting posts—the way to share on Twitter—Tumblr users can reblog, which means that they post someone else’s post on their own site, either with or without comments. They can customize their posts and create many different formats. Most Tumblr posters use nicknames, so it is difficult to know who is creating content and who is posting. One downside: Tumblr users are also sharing all their data with Yahoo, which has experienced two serious breaches of user data. And some online safety experts worry about the use of Tumblr by teens, with the potential for bullying or putting up inappropriate content. Stars such as Taylor Swift like Tumblr as a way to reach their fans.
YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine—Google is the first. It’s home to every kind of video content, from old sitcom clips to movies and original videos. No topic is too big or too small. It’s possible to watch the original Ronald Reagan–Jimmy Carter presidential debates, a Seinfeld episode, a video review of Apple’s iPhone, and lessons on how to make grilled cheese or apply eye makeup—all with a couple of clicks. YouTube stars have their own vlogs (think video plus blogs), and YouTube subscribers can give content a thumbs-up or thumbs-down and leave comments. Most of its revenue comes from ads, but YouTube has also launched a premium subscription service that is now ad free.
YouTube is the third most-visited site on the internet. It’s home to thousands of vloggers—a word that means “video bloggers” or “video logs.” Twenty years ago, who could have imagined that “vlogger” would be a job title?
An encrypted mobile messaging service—meaning it codes your messages so they can’t be readily accessed except by the recipient—owned by Facebook, which can be used around the world. It operates on internet connections, either Wi-Fi or cellular data. WhatsApp says that it has more than 1.2 billion users every month in more than 180 countries. Users can place calls and text for free over an encrypted, secure platform. Facebook is adding features to make WhatsApp more interactive. You can message up to 256 people at once and send documents, photos, videos, and more.
Google has its own online sharing service that is trying to compete with Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter and looks a bit like a mash-up of all three. It focuses on trying to form communities and collections, but it hasn’t had the impact of Snapchat and other start-up sharing sites.
Every day, 73 percent of all Americans go online—and much of that traffic is headed to social media. Twenty-three percent are online almost constantly, and that number reaches 36 percent if you count just 18- to 29-year-olds. Your friends, your colleagues, your boss, your neighbors, your family, and particularly your kids, if you have them, are already on social media. So are those millennials in your office, and so is the neighborhood babysitter or the home health aide caring for your parents. You want to know what they are looking at and who is communicating with them. If you know any teens, 94 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are on social media, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Three-quarters of all teens use Instagram and Snapchat; two-thirds use Facebook. Even though they can text on their smartphones, many send messages through applications like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Nearly one in five teens, about 18 percent, uses five or more different messaging apps. Like it or not, social media is here to stay.
We all can learn how to be savvy consumers, how to recognize fake or false
information, and how to harness social media for the best, not the worst. How can you avoid becoming trapped in a social media bubble but instead use it to find the best ways of sharing, searching, and communication? How can you make it a life saver, not a life destroyer?
For that, you need to swipe or turn the page.