Facebook has helped redefine the role of social media

By Zein Kattih, COLUMNIST
On May 24, 2012

Since February 2004, Facebook has accumulated 901 million users worldwide, so it was no surprise on May 18 when the company went public at an estimated value of $100 billion. What is surprising to many, however, is the apparent floundering of the company to live up to the hype surrounding its entrance into the public and Wall Street. Nonetheless, Facebooks foray into the public arena demonstrates a changing role for social media from a fleeting fad to a lasting innovation.

According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of American adults use social media sites. A 2010 study found that 42 percent of Americans over age 50 use social media. Worldwide, 5 billion people are connected via mobile phones and 2 billion are Internet users. Almost half of all Internet users are also users of Facebook. In younger generations, too, social media continues to dominate and expand. According to the Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life project, an average of 187 text messages are exchanged per person daily.

The social media age has brought with it an expansive connectedness. Nonetheless, a recent research project conducted by the Keller Fay Group as part of The Face-to-Face Book found that, despite the prevalence of social media, 90 percent of conversations occur offline, in the real world. Thus, it is a severe slight to the social media industry to suggest that social media is ruining communication or detracting from the human element. Online mediums are actually supplementing face-to-face contact.

With the recent claim by several news sources such as the Guardian that social media aided many of the Arab Spring uprisings, it is necessary to examine exactly what role social media is taking in society.
Social media has its benefits, yet to say it is the beacon of social change places too high a value on a medium that is not fully trusted.
Most importantly, the unique Facebook experience proves that it is not like other social media. Facebook embodies the transition of social media from a novelty to a given. The sharing of photos, status updates, news blasts, video blogs and tweets online has evolved from a mere act of vanity to one of globalization and innovation.

Though many people are reluctant to reveal private information on the Web, the eventual spread of information and the role of the users of social media sites contradict that fear.

This social media transition highlights a lasting impact. Whether Facebook continues to dominate or not, what will remain is the online connection made popular by Facebook and other social media. Just as people found the need to remain connected to their radios and televisions in case of breaking news, they will continue to maintain a connection to the rest of the world through social media.

Zein Kattih is a junior majoring in cell and molecular biology.

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