Blog Post

Social Media – A Historical Perspective

For my entire life my mom told me that social media was nothing, but a useless, toxic, time sink causing me not to use it for the first 17 years of my life. She’s right in some aspects, like if you go on Twitter for more than two seconds and certain Facebook groups. Anti-vaxers I’m looking at you.

However, what makes social media worthwhile? It can keep you connected to friends or relatives far away and forms communities that fight for causes as big as stopping climate change or as small as just making each other’s days better. However, social media can be just as deadly. It can tear people apart and make others snap at any opinion that even differs slightly from their own. It seems to decrease or limit users’ empathy towards other humans because you know they would never act that way in real life. As seen in the previous activity, there are a plethora of fake accounts that took me a long time to identify, so anyone just scrolling through mindlessly would never catch them. Another example of how social media is harmful was how the Russian government were able to set up fake accounts and affect the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor. On the corporate end of things, corporations like Facebook have sold our information to third parties for money.

Some rules I would institute for my own social media usage are some ones that I already employ. Don’t comment on every little thing, even if you feel like you have something you need to say or something profound. It probably isn’t as great as you think it is. This can come back to bite you later if you made a “bad take” and people aren’t going to agree with you in most cases. Another rule is to be mindful while browsing. Don’t believe everything you see and take everything at face value because people may be trolls with ulterior motives whether they be political or they just want a laugh.

Some challenges a historian might have when writing about the 21st century is social media itself. There is just a breadth of content to go through. More than any century before. In addition to this, social media is like it’s own society. Different platforms shift over time and evolve as social media and their own user base changes. Social media also has it’s own culture with its own type of language or slang that people use. There are also the phenomenon memes that can be incredibly hard to define and explain to anyone not “in” on the joke. Another problem they will have to face is the unreliability of many social media posts and they will have to verify each and every post on the websites. It can also be a bit challenging to find things unless you know what you’re looking for and where to find it. Although the Wayback Machine documents everything and anybody can go check out how a website used to be in on a certain date if they’d like. It’s commonly used to look at websites that no longer operate or tweets that were deleted by the poster- usually in the midst of drama in order to gather receipts.

However, social media will be an invaluable source for Historians for centuries to come. Social media actively documents changing perspectives, popular ideals, and newsworthy events in the entire world with a handy date stamped right on it. Although social media can’t tell us definitively about how a populace feels about anything with any certainty because while there is a large majority that uses social media, there are always going to be people who don’t post all of there thoughts and feelings to Twitter. We all know that the most outspoken people don’t always represent the majority of people, which will be have to be taken into account. In the end, the main problem with social media will be its unreliability.