Social Media and Its Effect on Youth and Society

Dr. Manish Kumar Srivastava*
Ms. Gunjan Sharma**

Abstract

In the fast-moving world of today, there are many burning issues that we need to think upon and act upon. We have to be aware of current issues like abuse of human rights, education, unfavorable effects of global warming, wrong deeds of political leaders, a crime against women, corruption, etc. which society needs to discuss openly to do something about it. Social networking sites provide a platform for discussion on such issues. An important issue that has not been seen in today’s context is the impact of social networking sites on the varying attitude of the youth.

This research has been conducted on the youth in the age group of 15 – 30 years to know their level of consciousness of community issues and how far social networking sites help today’s youth in expressing their views on current burning issues like corruption, human rights, education, etc. The study was conducted on 50 people, mostly through personal interaction, and a questionnaire on various social sites.

Introduction

The Internet has changed the way people receive information. It combines the immediacy of broadcast with in-depth coverage of newspaper, making it a perfect source for news and weather information. Even with the multimedia excitement of the web, electronic mail (email) is the most frequently used application of the internet. Many people, who have access to the internet at school, home, and at the workplace, use the internet for no other purpose than to send and to receive the mail. Wherever you look, the web is providing email addresses. This has made communication between strangers easier than ever.

Today Facebook has become an important source of information and communication for customers. People are more equipped with digital technologies like iPhones, Blackberries, Tablet PCs, search engines, etc. and hence they have more exposure to information. There are various social networking sites like Orkut, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Social networking websites provide a platform for virtual networking where anyone can share pictures, music, videos, events, activities, reviews about products and brands, etc. It creates a new forum of Internet Communities. Blogs and social networks have become a part of life for the youth in India. The explosion and increasing usage of Facebook websites provide a platform for nurturing brands and products. As a result, marketers consider these as the best platform for advertising their brands.

Social networking websites allow individuals to interact with one another and build relationships. When products or companies join these sites, people can interact with the product or company and share their views. Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, and blogs allow individual followers to “retweet” or “repost” comments made by the product being promoted. By repeating the message, the connected people can see the message and therefore reach more people. Social networking sites act as word of mouth way of communication. Usage of social networking sites creates more traffic for the product/company.

Through social networking sites, products/companies can have conversations and interactions with individual followers. This personal interaction can instill a feeling of loyalty to followers and potential customers. Also, by choosing whom to follow on these sites, products can reach a very narrow target audience. Facebook marketing refers to the process of gaining website traffic or attention through Facebook sites

The objective of the Study

  1. To know what type of youth use social networking sites.
  2. To know the most preferred website among the youth.
  3. To know the influence of Facebook on their purchasing behavior.
  4. To know the extent of the positive and negative impact of social networking sites on youth.

Literature Survey

Hinduja & Patchin (2008) did a content analysis of youth Myspace profiles and found that only eight percent used the full name and that 0.3 percent gave a phone number. They noted that 40 percent gave out their first name only and that 57 percent posted a profile picture. In 2007, Bovitz warned in the Journal of Extension that beyond possibly giving too much information that can be used to track them down, youth are posting provocative pictures and inappropriate comments, which can make them targets for online predators. Hinduja & Patchin’s study of 1,423 teen profiles also noted that 39 percent of profiles posted photos of themselves in their bathing suit or underwear and that 18 percent indicated drinking or other adult behaviors. Many teens post such information, sometimes falsely, to attract peer approval and attention, and to show maturity (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). In fact, 46 percent say they give some false information in their profile (Lenhart & Madden, 2007).

Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (2008) observe that the lines between the virtual and real-world are increasingly blurred for youth today: “. . .for today’s youth, media technologies are an important social variable and . . . physical and virtual worlds are psychologically connected; consequently, the virtual world serves as a playing ground for developmental issues from the physical world” (p. 124). The key questions for the youth and the SNS focus on the emotional, social, and cognitive effects of using the technology are for adolescents. Empirical studies that examine SNS effects are few, but fortunately, researchers have the opportunity to incorporate insights from a variety of previous research traditions beyond the theoretical perspectives outlined in the current literature.

Alisa Santiesteban (2010) has done research on the effect of Facebook on purchasing decisions and noted that people are using Facebook for personal and business use and purchasing decisions can be influenced by their interaction with a brand via Facebook and they purchase those brands because of their interaction. She did not consider age and gender in her study but the time spent on Facebook has a positive correlation with the purchasing decision.

June Ahn (2011) says SNS is an intriguing new environment to study because the technology is such an integral part of teenage life. Given its popularity, parents and educators have considerable concerns about the effects of SNS on their children and students. These concerns range from youth privacy, safety, psychological well-being, social development, and academic performance. While there is much theoretical discussion about the effects of SNS on youth, the empirical research that informs these popular debates is currently in an exploratory stage. Qualitative accounts and cross-sectional analyses dominate the literature. Longitudinal and experimental designs are needed to test the effects of SNS environments on the youth. However, these studies must be finely specified and attuned to theories about how youth use SNS, build a culture in these online communities, and enact communication behaviors that might be linked to their development.

Hypothesis

There has been significant interest and concern about the risks of online social networking because of access to personal information and the anonymity that the system allows. Several public cases of bullying and identity theft have put this issue in the public arena. There is significant use of Facebook by the youth for purchasing any product. Generally, SNS is used by the youth between the 15 and 30 years for “hanging-out” and they use fake identity and detail in the website that changes the behavior of the youth. It is a new mode of information, a new way of community formation, use of time, transparency, etc. The SNS harms the youth like it reduces the learning and research capabilities, academic performance reduces, time wastage, effect on health, etc.

Social Network Sites and How Do Youth Use Them

When a teenager joins a site like Facebook they first create a personal profile. These profiles display information such as one’s name, relationship status, occupation, photos, videos, religion, ethnicity, and personal interests. What differentiates SNS from previous media like a personal homepage is the display of one’s friends. In addition to exhibiting a network of friends, other users can then click on their profiles and traverse ever-widening social networks. These three features-profiles, friends, traversing friend lists-represent the core, defining characteristics of SNS. Social networking features are increasingly integrated into other types of media tools and online communities.

Sonia Livingstone (2008) notes that SNS invite” convergence among the hitherto separate activities of email, messaging, website creation, diaries, photo albums, and music or video uploading and downloading” (p.394). For example, YouTube is primarily a video sharing service, but users can add others as their friends or subscribe to a member’s collection of videos. Using Boyd and Ellison’s (2007) definition, YouTube can be included as a type of SNS. As researchers examine the effects of SNS on social behaviors, they will undoubtedly come across these blurring of technologies. The proliferation of SNS, both as standalone communities and integrated into other media tools, underscores the importance of understanding the unique effects these sites have on human interaction.

Uses of SNS

Presentation of Oneself. The basic level of entry in most SNS is the setting up of a ‘profile’: a personalized page developed by the user in which he/she presents him/herself to peers, through text, photos music, and videos amongst other functionalities. SNS allows users to mobilize and organize their social contacts and profiles in the way they want other members to see them. New ways for community formation through notions of virtual communities have existed since the beginning of online applications. SNS supports new ways for people to connect between themselves. Users of these sites may choose to communicate through various digital objects, such as tags and in-built applications within the SNS, such as the ‘visual shelf’ application on Facebook. Users may join a community of book readers, connecting through books they have liked.

Ease of Use. A major attribute of SNS popularity is their simplicity. Anyone with basic internet skills can create and manage an online SNS presence. Before SNS, users gained an online presence by having a personal homepage. The drawbacks were that these homepages are not easy to create and the development and hosting of the site often incur costs. In contrast, SNS is free of charge and open for anyone to join. Most of them require registration, while others limit membership through an invitation from those who are already members of the site.

Users of Social Networking Sites in India: Social networking is “a set of people and the relationships between them”. About 800 million people are using social networking sites in India. Around 350 million people are using Facebook. Social networking websites are very popular among the youth who are the majority users of these sites. There has been much interest and concern about the risks of online social networking because of access to personal information and the anonymity that the system allows. Cases of bullying and identity theft have put this issue in the public arena. Day by day social network site users are increasing in India. In 2014, India had 2000 million users with their accounts on networking sites. Most of the users are the youth in India who are attracted by the many features of social networking sites. The chief among them are:

Scrapping is similar to instant messaging but the text is also available for public view. Though there are privacy options to show scraps only to friends, it is not a personal means of communication like e-mail or instant messaging. Likeness for communities and friends network states that youth use these sites to satisfy their socialization needs to participate/ join in communities with like-minded users. And also to extend and nurture their friend’s network which symbolizes their socializing personality.

Profile setting is a means of exhibiting the profile users’ personality/identity as to how they want themselves to be perceived by the profile viewers.

Photo sharing. User has options such as photo-sharing only with friends and can also specifically choose individuals who can view the shared photos while it is not visible to others accessing the profile. Social networking sites use such stringent privacy settings to avoid an unsolicited breach of individuals’ personal space

Preferred Website of Youth

Through social networking, people can use networks of online friends and group memberships to keep in touch with current friends, reconnect with old friends, or create real-life friendships through similar interests or groups. Besides establishing important social relationships, social networking members can share their interests with other like-minded members by joining groups and forums. Some networking can also help members find a job or establish business contacts. Most social networking websites also offer additional features. In addition to blogs and forums, members can express themselves by designing their profile page to reflect their personality. The most popular extra features include music and video sections. The video section can include everything from member-generated videos from hundreds of subjects to TV clips and movie trailers.

These sites serve well in many ways, but it has its negative effects too such as cybercrime which has become a privacy threat to people worldwide. Although advantageous in many ways by building new relationships and reconnecting with lost or old contacts, it also brought up some behavioral changes among the youth. It has also become a nightmare for some.

The following table shows the most popular 15 social networking sites with the number of monthly users/visitors as of 15/1/2014.

Sr.No Social networking site Monthly no. of users as on
January 1, 2014
1. Facebook 800,000,000
2. Twitter 250,000,000
3. LinkedIn 200,000,000
4. Google Plus+ 150,000,000
5. Pinterest 140,500,000
6. Tumblr 125,000,000
7. Flickr 67,000,000
8. VK 65,400,000
9. Instagram 50,000,000
10. mySpace 26,500,000
11. Tagged 20,500,000
12. Meetup 17,500,000
13. Ning 13,000,000
14. MeetMe 10,500,000
15. ClassMates 10,000,000

Using SNS is a force for good or evil?

It has never been easier to make/find friends than it is right now. When we find any of our favorite classmates on SNS we think that we have found a treasure. In some cases we chat, share, and comment with this friend and after some days we feel bored to spent time with this friend. Then there are important professional friends and some relatives with whom like to share information.

Positive Impact

  1. Speedy communication: In today’s busy world no one has much time to spend with others, specifically with family and relatives. So, the way of communication should be speedy. SNS gives us that speed to communicate with our family, friends, or complete business related work.
  2. Find/make friends as well as maintain relationships: SNS provides the forum to maintain existing relationships by keeping in touch with others and to find or make new friends.
  3. Ease of use: According to a study of the Times of India, there were 243 million users of the internet by 2014, which beats the US internet reach. The usage of the internet is increasing more and more. SNS is popular because people can use it.
  4. Keep in touch with the world: Only family or close friends are not our worlds. There are so many other people that you may know or want to know. One can keep in touch with all friends or business associates who have since moved away.

Negative Impact

  1. Waste of time: Some people visit the SNS just to check the updates or messages and spend the whole day not doing anything special or useful.
  2. Diverting the student’s attention from their work by various attractive ads, photos, and videos to kill the dullness of their study time.
  3. It reduces the reading; learning capabilities as students rely on the easily accessible information on the SNS.

Level of Facebook Usage

Usage of Facebook has been measured by assigning scores to questions relating to the reasons why students use Facebook. Twelve reasons are indicated in the questionnaire.

Age is likely to create differences in the level of Facebook usage. Accordingly, young students may use Facebook more compared to others. It is found that students between the ages of 17 and 19 years use Facebook more as compared to other groups of students.

Gender: Female students are found to use Facebook more as compared to male students.

Area of residence: Students residing outside their home use Facebook more frequently compared to others.

Educational qualification is also a factor in Facebook usage. It is found that undergraduate students, as opposed to PG, M.Phil, and Ph.D. students use Facebook to a greater extent.

Marital status also counts as unmarried students use Facebook more frequently than married students.

Family is another factor. Those hailing from nuclear families use Facebook more frequently compared to students hailing from joint family.

Period of association: A longer period of association with Facebook makes one understand the various features available in it and accordingly it will enhance the use of the site. It is found that students who have a Facebook account for more than two years have a high level of usage.

The number of friends: The prime reason for students to use Facebook is to keep in touch with their friends. Usage of Facebook, therefore, will be more if friends are more in number. It is found that students with more than 250 friends use Facebook very frequently.

Frequency of visiting: Frequencies of visiting Facebook pages defines the limit of usage. Table 2 shows that students who visit Facebook very frequently are high-level users.

Average time spent: The amount of time spent by students on Facebook differs. It is natural to expect that its usage level will be higher for those who browse through Facebook for longer hours. On average, these high users spend one to two hours daily viewing Facebook.

Usefulness: The usefulness of Facebook significantly influences the level of its usage.

Ethics for Young Users of SNS

The new digital social networking media are a frontier that is rich with both opportunities and risks, particularly for young people. Through SNS technologies, young people are participating in a range of activities, including social networking, blogging, gaming, instant messaging, downloading music and other content, uploading and sharing their own creations, and collaborating with others in various ways. Five key issues are at stake in the new social networking media: identity, privacy, ownership and authorship, credibility, and participation.

These issues decide the social and ethical responsibilities of the youth while using social networking sites.

  1. Persons using SNS should be aware of their rights and moral responsibilities.
  2. We should respect the privacy of others using SNS.
  3. We should follow the ethics of online identity.
  4. Create a culture of disclosure.
  5. Online, a number of strategies, including privacy settings, selective disclosure, code-switching, and deception are used by youth to control the disclosure of their identities and thereby manage their privacy. Most social networking sites have privacy settings that allow users to limit access to their profiles to a narrow audience of confirmed friends and evidence suggests that many young people use these settings.
  6. The online culture of disclosure holds important promises for young people, including empowerment of themselves and others, the creation of communities of support around shared struggles, and the development of a broad ethical sense of responsibility concerning privacy.
  7. Promises of ownership and authorship online.
  8. Maintain credibility: the Indian youth can play an important role in reducing the negative impact of social networking sites so that it is used beneficially.

Conclusion

As with most things in life, there are positive and negative sides to social networking, both of which we have explored. Our ultimate belief is that when done in moderation, with checks and balances on how younger people, in particular, are using them, SNS has a great impact on the Indian youth and help them with challenges which they have to face. Many questions arise when we think about the impact of the SNS. What does it mean to manage online privacy ethically? How does online space facilitate and undermine ethical thinking about privacy? How much personal information is reasonable to share online? How do SNS distract students from their studies? What about young people sharing personal experiences online taking steps to protect their own and others’ identities? Is it reasonable for young people to expect a certain measure of privacy when it comes to their online lives? Who is at fault when an unintended audience can read a young person’s revealing blog or MySpace page? So we should focus on the ethical uses of these SNS so that it serves our society in the right way and the youth can play an important role because SNS is both a boon and a curse for our society. On the one hand, it provides a way to connect our dear ones on the other hand side it gives a platform that becomes a danger for our heritage and culture. Ultimately knowledge and technology are powers but only if they are applied and used correctly, not misused. So, SNS is neither an evil nor a godsend, they are somewhere in between. Parents should have a transparent and genuine two-way communication with their children to establish a safe and positive relationship as well as cyber experience. Do be careful!

References

  • Subrahmanyam, K., & Greenfield, P. (2008).Online communication and adolescent relationships. The Future of Children, 18(1), 119–146.
  • Subrahmanyam, K., Reich, S.M., Waechter, N., & Espinoza, G. (2008).Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 420–433.
  • June Ahn, University of Maryland, College Park, College of Information Studies & College of Education, 2117J Hornbake Building, South Wing, College Park, MD 20742. E-mail: ahnjune@gmail.com (JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY—August 2011)
  • Hinduja S., & Patchin J.W. (2008). Personal information of adolescents on the Internet: A quantitative content analysis of mySpace. Journal of Adolescence, 31, 125-146.
  • Boyd, d. m. (2006). Friends, Friendster, and mySpace top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11(12).
    http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_12/boyd/index.html.
  • Boyd, d. m. (2008). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.), Youth, identity, and digital media (pp. 119–142). The John D. and Catherine
  • T. Mac Arthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N.B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.
* Research Supervisor
** Research Scholar, Mewar University, Chittorgarh

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