Social media has been a phenomenon along with the evolution of smartphones and the internet. During the primitive stages of the home computer, the first ever online media platform created, the Bulletin Board System (BBS), allowed users to log in and connect.
The BBS was a computer server with software through which users connected to a terminal system to upload, download and exchange messages publicly and privately, and read news and bulletins. In addition, the BBS system had online games where users could compete and chat with one another as they played.
As computing technology advanced in the mid-1970s so did online applications. In 1988 Jarkko Oikarinen invented the first Internet Relay Chat (IRC) where users could chat in real-time.
Soon after the expansion and growth of IRC, instant messaging evolved through a variety of online platforms. In 1997 the first social media networks were launched – Six Degrees and Bolt. Bolt was a social media network created by Dan Pelson and Jane Mount for young adults to send emails, instant messages, voice chat, listen to internet radio, blog and play online games with others. Bolt had innovative features, a unique user interface, and gained popularity among older men and women. Soon after Bolt would launch a platform for creators to connect with investors, it was shut down due to bankruptcy.
Social media platforms of the early 2000s
Fast forward to the early 2000s and social networking platforms such as LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Reddit were released to the public with distinctive purposes and audience appeal. Unlike the previous forms of social media, these particular platforms mainly consisted of multi-media and new media. Later other famous venues such as Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr were created.
The initial purpose of social networking platforms
The initial purpose of social media helped end users connect digitally with other individuals who shared similar interests. It also connected them with their family, friends and colleagues. In addition, when technology like the Apple iPhone 3G was released, the innovative and technological advancement of computers, social networking platforms expanded accessibility from computers to handheld smartphones.
Social media also created opportunities for businesses to reach millions of users quickly and connect with and retain potential customers. In a nutshell, social media platforms were created to connect individuals within their distinct communities to communicate and share informative information for personal or commercial purposes. However, the purpose and reality of social media in the present have completely changed.
Social media today
Though there are numerous amounts of social media platforms, some of the most popular are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest. Of these eight social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have come under fire for provocative content that is uploaded, shared and saved by millions of users. Unquestionably, social media has become threatening because of the content uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok that is pornographic, violent, false and absolutely irrelevant.
It should also be noted that anyone with a smartphone, computer, or tablet can create a social media account and use it as they would like. Though there are guidelines and regulations set with all social media platforms, it does not seem that there is much interference with harmful content. Moreover, social media platforms have their own search engines, and anyone interested in viewing will more than likely have the accessibility to so.
With the ease of access to various types of media, social media can expose an individual to heinous acts and sexual acts. It can drive them to commit the same actions, and if viewed perpetually, could desensitize users to cruelty, suffering, or overexposure to harmful content.
Menacing influences of social media
A prime example includes social media challenges created by users and shared with other users who will attempt the challenge due to the hype, popularity and potential followers or likes it could bring to their accounts. Two of the most notable challenges — the Kia Challenge and the Crate Challenge — were dangerous and life-threatening. The Kia Challenge started as a TikTok challenge in which individuals hot wired a Kia or Hyundai, stole the car and drove crazily on public roads. Unfortunately, four teenagers who attempted the Kia Challenge died in a car accident when the teenage driver lost control of the car and crashed in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Crate Challenge was also a viral social media challenge from August 2021. The Crate Challenge involved milk crates stacked like a stairwell in the shape of a podium where the individual had to clear both sides of boxes without falling or knocking over any crates. Although the Crate Challenge challenge involved a high risk of death and severe injury, social media users still attempted it. Consequently, many people fell off of the crates during the challenge and suffered broken wrists, broken arms, ACL tears, concussions and spinal cord injuries.
The cryptocurrency and NFT craze took the world by storm when investors, entrepreneurs, celebrities and influencers would share coins, tokens and digital assets online. They often expressed the limitless opportunities and wealth digital assets and currencies could bring. Two of the world’s most notable celebrities — Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather — were compensated to promote a cryptocurrency entitled EthereumMax. Millions of followers took their word and invested in EthereumMax. Shortly after EthereumMax lost 97% of its value and investors sued Floyd Mayweather, Kim Kardashian and even former Boston Celtic Paul Pierce. They claimed the use of celebrities inflated the price, misled investors and gained more money and credibility with the use of known individuals.
The ultimate result of these challenges increased misinformation, theft, injuries and even death across the United States. The Kia Challenge challenge increased auto theft rates and auto damages whereas the Crate Challenge increased theft rates in the dairy industry and raised concerns due to people needing crates to attempt the challenge.
Social media emboldens popular users’ reach, power and influence to create a narrative for millions of users to attempt dangerous challenges. If users are willing to risk their safety for social media it can also change their perspectives, beliefs and moods, and even cause them to become addicted to aimless scrolling.
Should social media be regulated in the U.S.?
In short, yes. But not all social media needs censorship depending on the purpose of the platform, the type of media that governs the platform and its usage patterns or activity. There are various reasons why social media needs censorship but the four prominent reasons are misinformation, hate or dehumanizing speech, white-collar crime and the amplification of violence and or crime.
One of the reasons why social media needs more censorship is misinformation. Millions of social media users believe what they see on social media is accurate or at least somewhat accurate. If the user believes or has some belief in that information, they will share, comment and save the information for the next set of users to see and repeat the process. These issues are primarily caused because of individuals who lack credibility or extensive knowledge of a topic.
Another cause includes third-party news media groups who take the first evidence or story they see and convey that information without developing the evidence. In essence, these news sources have misinformed the mass of users by creating a story or providing technically falsified information.
The second reason why social media should be censored is because of hate speech and dehumanizing speech. Although social media invokes our freedom of speech, it can also intensify misinformation. Most of the written content by users on social media is opinionated. But any negative comment or content may cause other users to give an opinion or joke, especially about a public figure or heinous situation.
Much of the dehumanizing speech on social media is rooted in cyber bullying. While technically free speech, it could cause the person or people being bullied to become depressed, anxious, or suicidal. In some cases, it has and has led to the death or injury of the victim being bullied.
Third, white-collar crime grows contagiously across all social media platforms. Scammers who use social media commit various types of fraud such as imposter scams, investment scams, government grant scams, charity scams and even Ponzi schemes through Cash-App and Zelle. The most prominent scams of 2022 included investment scams and celebrity scams. With the rise of NFTs, cryptocurrency and stocks many scammers posed as gurus and investors, swindling money from working-class people. These scammers created fake celebrity accounts and connected with users and manipulated them with the lure of prizes, commodities, or opportunities.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, investment scams in 2022 resulted in $3.8 billion worth of fraud while impersonator scams caused $2.6 billion. Most of the marketing or exposure of these scams was done through social media.
Lastly, social media amplifies crime and violence due to uncensored media involving re-created skits and user-created videos which contain actual footage of heinous crimes. The promotion of violence intensifies the idea of committing harm. Consequently, when users view more crime uploaded on social media, the fear of the user becoming a victim intensifies. It alters users’ minds and sadly can increase aggression, anxiety and anger in users, affecting their overall mental health.
Should social media be regulated in the United States? The answer is self-explanatory, but the real question is, “What measures can be taken to regulate social media ethically?”
Featured Image: Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash
Edited by: Steven London
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