In Cyber Safety, Social Media

What are Social Media Networks and How are they Used?

social media networks

Social media and social media networks are terms you have probably heard often, but do you really understand it?  What is social media networking?  What is a social media network?  What are the top social media networks?

Social Media v. Social Networking

Social media is a platform that you use to transmit information to people you may or may not know.  Social media network sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, allow you to create an account and share information.  The people you choose to have in your social circle on these platforms is up to you.  You can allow only people that you know in real life or you can allow people whom you have never before met.

Social media allows you to share all kinds of information:

  • Updates about your life
  • News stories that interest you
  • Video that you find engaging, entertaining, or informative
  • Pictures that belong to you or others
  • Links to sites or stories that you want others to see
  • Your opinion on topics or other people’s posts so as to organize a movement, share information, or inform others

Social networking refers more to engagement.  Groups of people with like opinions and purposes can create virtual networks that stretch across their communities or across the globe using social media platforms.  For example, organizations such as Amnesty International, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders have a presence on social media networks in order to interact with a community of people who support their cause and raise awareness of the issues they champion.

With social media, information tends to be a one way communication.  In a social networking situation, communication is generally two-way with people joining to further the goals of a group or to spread an idea.

Top Social Media Network Sites

According to Business Insider, the top social media networking sites are taking on a more global flavor.  Sites that get a great deal of attention such as Pinterest and Twitter are actually on the smaller end of social networks.  New apps and platforms that are focused in Asia are gaining in popularity and messaging apps that allow for a global audience such as WhatsApp are also gaining in audience.

According to Business Insider, some of the top social networks are as follows.  Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of social media networks, but simply some of the largest.

  1. Facebook.  This site allows user to share almost any kind of media as well as play games and interact with each other.  Users can set up personal pages or business pages to engage and interact with their audience.
  2. YouTube.  This is a video sharing site. Users can share videos on almost any topic as long as they do not violate copyright laws.
  3. Chinese based sites such as Qzone, Sina Weibo, and Tencent Weibo are gaining popularity.
  4. WhatsApp.  A global messaging app, WhatsApp allows users to share information directly with anyone almost instantly.
  5. Google+.  Similar to Facebook, Google+ allows users to share media with chosen followers.
  6. Tumblr.  Owned by Yahoo!, this is a microblogging site where users can share almost any digital content easily.
  7. LINE.  Created in Japan, LINE allows users to download an app and then make phone calls or send messages from their smartphones to any other user in the world.
  8. Twitter.  Users create accounts and are able to share short (140 character) messages with people around the world.  Most users interact publicly through “tweets”, though direct messages are possible.
  9. LinkedIn.  Linked In is a social networking site for business professionals.  Interactions on this site are professional and business like in nature.  The intent is for people of like industries to interact with each other and share information.
  10. Instagram.  This is a photo sharing app, acquired by Facebook.  Instagram allows users to share photos and short videos publicly or privately with their friends list.
  11. Pinterest.  Users can create board on which they can “pin” content.   Like a virtual bulletin board, users can view other people’s boards for personal events like weddings, home decorating, education ideas, remodeling or virtually any other topic possible.  Pinterest is a way to share content and also reference content you want to use again in the future.
  12. Vine.  Users create and share short videos, usually less than 10 seconds.
  13. Snapchat.  Snapchat is a photo sharing application that allows users to take photos or create videos and share with a selected list of recipients.  Users can draw on the photos, add text, or audio before sharing.  One of SnapChat’s appeals is that the media “disappears” from the user’s phone preventing further sharing or from it taking up memory on the phone.

What Are the Dangers and Benefits of Social Media and Networking for Individuals?

Social media and networking have a wide range of benefits to individuals.

  • Enables you to reach a wide audience for your cause.
  • Keeps you in touch with family and friends
  • Allows you to share information freely with the network you choose
  • Meet new people from around the world
  • Engage with people on fan pages whom they might not ordinarily be able to meet
  • Allows for the exchange of information to further education, freedom of speech, and public knowledge
  • Engage with people who offer products and services you would like but are located outside of your community
  • Interact with people who have careers similar to yours to gain new employment
  • Increase your own knowledge, job skills, or even learn a new language.  The way you can interact with people is almost endless

With the wide range of benefits, we might be tempted to over share our personal information.  What should you avoid when using social media?

  • Limit how much private information you post publicly.  Your address, phone numbers, or place of employment is information that people who need it should already have.  There is no need to post it where it can be seen by virtually anyone where it can lead to identity theft.
  • Update your privacy settings.  Some social media platforms will allow you to tweak these settings and limit how much information you share publicly.
  • Do not post information that could be embarrassing to you or your place of employment.  You may find yourself without a job if your employer doesn’t like the image you are portraying via social media channels.
  • Remember that once you place something on the Internet, it is forever.  You may delete an embarrassing picture or post, but chances are it has already been copied, shared, and sent to other people.  It exists on their pages even if you have deleted the original.
  • Beware of offers that sound too good or people whom you cannot contact – especially if they require something of you like financial assistance.  It could very well be a scam.
  • Always supervise your child’s social media use.  Children, even on child centered “safe” social media platforms, can be targeted by pedophiles. Parental supervision on the Internet is critical to maintaining your child’s safety.

How Do Businesses Use Social Media?

Individuals are not the only ones with a social media presence.  Businesses have learned that social media can help them sell their product to an ever increasing global audience.  As the price of international shipping falls, the ability for a business to reach across the globe has increased. According to Forbes Magazine, businesses use social media in the following ways:

  • Small upstart businesses use the platforms to reach a large international audience and compete with their established competitors.
  • Listen to customer complaints and rectify problems with service or products to better suit the consumer.
  • Advertise their goods and services through a variety of channels.
  • Some businesses create short, funny or poignant video advertisements that they hope will “go viral,” meaning that they are shared over and over again on social media by thousands or even millions of individual users.  Campaigns such as this generate buzz about their product.

What Are Some Other Unexpected Uses of Social Media?

Governments and international organizations have embraced the use of social media to leverage information.  Consider some of these uses:

  • Police around the world have used social media sites to engage with and catch sexual predators.
  • Local police departments can post pictures of suspected criminals gathered from crime scene video to lead to identification and arrests.
  • The United States Library of Congress archives every public tweet to create a large repository of public information in which global events and trends can be tracked and examined.
  • Governments around the world regularly monitor social media sites for evidence of planned terrorist attacks.
  • Public health and government officials can disseminate information quickly in a crisis to increase public awareness and safety.
  • Up to 27% of American adults report that they get the majority of their news from social networking sites.
  • Political and social revolutions, such as the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, can be fueled by social media.   This is such a real threat that some governments such as those of China and North Korea prevent access to sites such as Facebook and Twitter to stem the flow of information and prevent similar political revolutions.

If you’re concerned about what your child might be getting up to when they’re online, our Heads Up platform is able to detect any potential harmful danger or cyberbullying that may come their way.

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