What is social media


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What is social media?

A graphic of the globe made up of different, brightly coloured computer screens

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.

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A close up of smart device screens showing many different social media app icons

So, what is social media?

Social media is a collective term used to describe any website or smart device app that can be used to share (or socialise) information.

That information can be made up of text, pictures, sound or video (different types of media), and it can be sent from your computer or device to one or more other people by using a special website or app.

There are many different types of social media websites and apps that are owned by big companies, including some of the best known: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

When did it start?

While the term social media is relatively new, the ability to send messages between computers has existed for several decades. Starting out as very simple programs, the predecessors to today's modern social media apps allowed users to type simple text messages to each other on their computer, provided their computers were all connected to the internet.

A graphic showing a simple exchange of text messages between two people.
A graphic depicting how social media connects many people together through sharing and liking each other's posts.

Social media today

Fast-forward some 40 years, and social media companies allow their users to interact in ways that we could have only dreamt of at the turn of the century. Registered users of these social media services can share photos, videos and other content in seconds with millions of people all around the world. This is known as posting content. Other users can then comment on, share or Like these posts to show their appreciation.

The major social networks

There are many social media companies (or networks), but there are several major players in the market. 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 Facebook logo on a trophy, indicating it is a world-leading social media platform in terms of popularity.
The logos of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, twitter, Pinterest and WeChat, being some of the most popular social media companies around today.

The major social networks used around the world include:

  • Facebook: The world's largest social media network with 2.3 billion active users each month.
  • YouTube: A video-sharing service owned by Google.
  • Instagram: A photo- and video-sharing service for mobile devices.
  • Twitter: A service allowing users to share short snippets of text, limited to 280 characters.
  • Pinterest: A photo-sharing service.
  • WeChat: A Chinese-based site allowing users to message one another individually or in groups.

The power of social media

As mentioned, social media companies are some of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world. This is due to the revenue they generate from allowing companies to target their users with advertising.

Social media platforms also collect seemingly endless amounts of data on their users. They collect and store your personal information that you provide when you sign up, and they track and record your interests and online behaviour (e.g. the web pages you visit and the amount of time you spend on them).

A graphic depicting how advertisements are targetted to users by the types of posts they read and like on social media.

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.

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eSafety Tip

While we have looked at some of the most popular social media companies in this activity, there are many other social media platforms and multi-player, online games where people connect to each other. The eSafety Commissioner website has a handy guide to these different platforms, and you can find out more by visiting their eSafety Guide at https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/esafety-guide.

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.

Some ladies gather together to catch up on their social media feeds.