Social Media



Social Media—the use of dedicated websites or apps to connect people and share information--has exploded over the past two decades. Sites like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp and many others have become part of modern culture worldwide, for better and for worse. Join Active Minds as we explain social media, explore its pros and cons, and discuss its dramatic impact on society, institutions, politics, nations, and individuals.

Key Lecture Points

  • The internet and the world wide web were initially utilized predominantly via “point-to-point” communication. Thus, one computer user communicating with one other computer user to send an email, or one user accessing information on a server that supports a particular website.
  • The more recent phenomenon of internet use is for social networking websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and others. These sites and the dedicated applications (apps) associated with them allow individuals to create and update an online presence or profile, consisting of text, image, video, internet links and/or music. Once created, an online profile is available to anyone with access to the internet. Thus, social networking allows individuals and organizations to communicate swiftly and easily with any of the 5.3 billion people who currently have internet access.
  • Social media platforms rarely charge their users.  Instead, they use the data gleaned from user profiles to sell advertisements targeted toward the particular habits of the individual user.  This has led to concerns that social media giants are violating the privacy of their unwitting users.  Adding to this concern is the concern about the abuse of social media by governments, Russia and China in particular, to undermine democratic institutions.
  • Social media platforms are playing a key role in connecting people across the globe.  These connections can be positive, even joyful, from organized responses to natural disasters to a 3-year-old boy whose recitation of a poem on YouTube has been viewed by over a million people.
  • There are, however, significant concerns about the growing presence of social media, from addiction and cyber-bullying to the spread of misinformation.  Any action undertaken to reign in the power of social media raises issues of infringement on individual liberty and the right to free speech.

Discussion Questions

  • How can social media be used to bring about positive political change? Change public opinion? Influence purchasing?
  • Why do you think social media has become so popular so quickly?  Is it just a fad?  Do you remember other fads that have been as influential?
  • How do you think the U.S. could improve digital literacy?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Collier, Marsha. Facebook & Twitter for Seniors for Dummies, Third Edition . For Dummies, 2018. 352 pages. Offers advice on how to enjoy the three most popular social media options while avoiding worry about who sees what you share.
    Click here to order
  • Kirkpatrick, David. Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That’s Connecting the World. Simon & Schuster, 2011. 384 pages. The story of Facebook, how it came to dominate the Internet and how it is changing our society.
    Click here to order