Across the state, families are preparing to send their kids off to college. For many students, school is only a few miles away, but for University of South Carolina sophomore Savannah Willis, it’s much farther.
Despite this, Willis manages to find a way to minimize the distance. “I moved 11 hours away from home for college and without social media, I would’ve completely lost contact with everyone back home,” says Willis. “I still feel connected”.
Seventy eight percent of Americans use some form of social media. Worldwide, there are 1.96 billion social media users and analysts project that number to rise to 2.5 billion by 2018. For some, social media seems like a relatively new advent of communication when in reality, its popularity has been steadily increasing since the early 2000s. Social platforms such as Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter began popping up during this time.
Within recent years, social media has exploded and become a positive addition to many people’s lives. GlobalWebIndex sites keeping in touch with friends and family as the top reason people use social media.
Another common reason people engage in social media is to stay informed about current events. Over half of the U.S. population reports learning about breaking news through various social platforms.
“It used to be something would happen and it’d be several hours or maybe even the next day until you heard about it, but now with social media, you’re getting that information right away,” says University of South Carolina professor Dr. Kevin Hull. “Without even trying to find it, the news is delivered straight to your phone”.
Regardless of the ways social media has improved people’s lives, some feel it has its definite cons; many of which they attribute to generational disparities. “Younger people have kind of grown up with this,” Hull says. “They live in a much more instant culture, so there’s less reflection like there used to be”.
Social media’s rise has also created new dangers for users. “I think that there are boundaries on social media, but people just don’t adhere to them. That’s when you come into the issue of cyberbullying,” says Willis.
South Carolina law defines cyberbullying as harassing someone online by sending intimidating or threatening messages.
Irmo, S.C. resident Dennis Scott believes people should be more mindful of the things they say online. “We need to hold people who are using social media to account,” he says. “When someone says something out of bounds, there needs to be a sincere acknowledgment of their wrongdoing”.
Many social media sites try to combat such incidents by enforcing speech policies on their users. Twitter, for example, temporarily locks or permanently suspends accounts that put out offensive content and Facebook allows users to report posts they feel violate the platform’s Community Standards.
Another way social media negatively impacts people is its tendency to reduce productivity. According to CareerBuilder, social media is one of the leading reasons why people waste time at work. In 2015, South Carolina banned state employees from using social media while on the job altogether.
While social media has its pros and cons, few people doubt its impact on society. “It’s cool what it’s done for us,” says Willis. “Social media is a new way to share and interact and I think it’s just going to continue evolving”.