What is social media


Close lesson
You have completed 0%

What is social media?

A graphic of the globe made up of different, brightly coloured social media icons

What's coming up?

While social media is a relatively new concept, it's taken the world by storm with a mind-boggling estimated 3.5 billion people using social media globally.

This activity will introduce you to social media, how it works and why it's so popular.

Start activity
A graphic of speech bubbles chatting in social media

So, what is social media?

While the term social media is a relatively new term, social networks have existed for several decades.

Starting in primitive form, the first social networks consisted of basic messaging applications that allowed multiple users to type messages to each other over a computer network.

Social media today

Fast-forward some 40 years, and social media platforms allow their users to interact in ways that we could have only dreamed of at the turn of the century. Social media users can share photos, videos and other content instantly with millions of people all around the world.

These users can then comment on, share or give a tick of approval (usually called a Like) on posts, to show their appreciation.

A graphic of people on social media liking and sharing content
A graphic of a social media icon on a trophy

The major social networks

The social media world is dominated by several major players. These companies have become some of the largest and wealthiest in the world due to their influence and the amount of information they own.

The major social networks (cont'd)

The biggest social networks used around the world include:

  • Facebook: The world's largest social media network with 2.99 billion active users each month, owned by Meta
  • YouTube: A video-sharing platform owned by Google
  • Instagram: A photo- and video-sharing service for mobile devices, owned by Meta.
The Facebook, YouTube and Instagram company logos
The X, Pinterest, WeChat and WhatsApp company logos

The major social networks (cont'd)

Other popular social networks used around the world include:

  • X (formerly known as Twitter): A platform allowing users to share short snippets of text, limited to 280 characters, which changed its name in 2023
  • Pinterest: A photo-sharing platform
  • WeChat: A China-based site allowing users to message one another individually or in groups
  • WhatsApp: A text, video and voice calling app that lets users message one another individually or in groups.

The power of social media

Social media companies generate vast amounts of revenue by allowing companies to target you with advertising while you use their platform.

Social media platforms also collect and store your personal information that you provide when you sign up, and they track and record your interests and online behaviour. This may include the web pages you visit and the amount of time you spend on them.

A social media platform showing a tennis ad to a user

Let's check

Decide if the following statements are true or false. Click each card once to turn it over and see the answer.

You can use social media to do your online banking.

Click to flip

This is false.

Social media has many uses but you can't use it for online banking.

With social media, you can share your photos and videos with people around the world.

Click to flip

This is true.

One of the biggest benefits of social media is the ability to share your photos and videos almost instantaneously online.

Social media allows you to comment on and like other people's photos and videos.

Click to flip

This is true.

This interaction between users is one of the great social aspects of social media.

An icon of a padlock

eSafety Tip

When you use a social media platform via a web browser or some official apps, that platform may be able to track what you do when you use your web browser to surf the web or shop online.

You can control social media’s access to your web browser using profile and privacy settings. You can learn more about privacy and security settings in our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and X (formerly known as Twitter) courses in this topic.

A smartphone showing the logos of the big social media platforms

Well done!

You have completed the What is social media? activity.

You should now be able to identify the major social networks and have a basic understanding of the reach and power of social media.

The next activity, The benefits of social media, will outline some of the ways social media can benefit you.