We are without a doubt in the age of social media. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have completely dominated our culture, our minds and our lives. We are now capable of almost-instant communication with anyone anywhere on the globe, and can watch such classic gems as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger – Again!’ or ‘Gangnam Style’ whenever we want. But is this a good thing? Celebrities have been made through social media, and downfalls have been wrought. Our eyes are glued to Twitter Feeds and Facebook Walls. Are we approaching the end of our personal culture, as more and more conversations are conducted over the internet? Are we drawing ever-closer to ‘amusing ourselves to death’?
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have created so many public figures for nothing more than talking to a Webcam. ‘YouTubers’ such as Tyler Oakley, KSI and Nash Grier have become household names, and they have enormous influence on us. They can use their position to be genuine advisors or visionaries, but most of them don’t. Anyone who has read b**p’s previous article on Nash Grier’s misogynistic faux pas, or has seen any of the ‘gaming’ YouTubers, whose offerings consist of them playing games while turning the air blue for no obvious reason, can have no reason to argue with this. But there is some genuine talent out there, as rare as it may be.
The age of social media has also massively decreased the amount of time it takes for news to travel the world. Even news from established providers, like the BBC, can reach the public within minutes of the story breaking. This is particularly surprising when remembering that in bygone days it took six months for news to cross the Atlantic. When Paul Walker was killed in a car accident in California in November 2013, Twitter was alive in minutes with British and Japanese responses. Within twenty-four hours, two Facebook pages titled ‘RIP Paul Walker’ received over a million likes each. Several million Tweets containing ‘#RIPpaulwalker’ were made in the same time. But afterwards there was an alarmingly fast changeover of news: Walker gave way in the headlines to Tom Daley, who then gave way to Nelson Mandela. News, whether scandalous, untrue or otherwise, can travel the globe in seconds.
Social media also now offers a direct line of communication between established celebrities and the general public. In the past, the only method of communication was through the press, which were liable to devalue, ridicule and lampoon. This means that messages can find their way through to the general public in the original format they were created. Unfortunately, this can tend to be a bad thing for many people, in particular Public Relations consultants, because normally the worst people for celebrities are themselves. We have but to take as an example Justin Bieber’s retirement threat, made in December 2013 on Twitter, and unbeknownst completely to his management. It is by this method that several celebrities have lost all hero-worship from their fans, and damage-limitation isn’t even an option. By the time a post has been made, it has already been seen by several thousand people. However, genuine messages can be conferred using exactly the same method. In the last year, both Tom Daley and Troye Sivan have chosen to come out as gay through social media. It is probably worth noting that both of these young men are darlings of social media and know their stuff, so it has to have some advantage over the media.
And where will social media go next? We already have the capability to speak with almost no lag to someone several thousand kilometres away, and now what? It is only a matter of time before we are able to log into a completely virtual world and run businesses, spending real money within this world … oh, no, wait, we could do that in 2003 with Second Life. But what happens next is a real and worrying question. In its present state, Social Media has already been blamed for the breakup of marriages, and many people are in the process of deleting their accounts on Facebook and Twitter over privacy concerns. We can’t really be sure what the next development will be, but rest assured that this is an extremely innovative and fast-moving sector, and it won’t be long before we find out.
This story was featured in our first print edition which is available now in schools and by contacting Yasmine@bringingwords.org