The arrival of the internet

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The advent of the Internet has transformed our lives in many radical ways, one of which is the arrival of new social media, which has brought about a transformation in the way we engage with each other. What started off as a means to merely keep in touch with one’s friends has grown in such a way as to permeate every part of our lives. The most popular social media tools currently in use by several hundred million people all over the world are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and a host of free messaging services such as WhatsApp. These platforms allow users to share not only news and opinion but also photographs, video, as well as any other relevant media content.

Snapchat as Media

Businesses and traditional media outlets have responded to the change by swiftly moving their field of operations onto virtual platforms, operating websites and buying ad space on social media platforms. Most importantly is perhaps the fact that the internet and social media has given the private individual immense power by allowing them to create any kind of content that they please and then post it where everyone has access. This can range from well-researched articles to private opinion in a blog post to pictures and videos. As the number of users with internet access has grown, so too has the power of social media as an agent of positive change, as witnessed during the Arab Spring, to an element of chaos as seen by the dissemination of fake news on Facebook and Twitter.

There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages that exist when it comes to debating over the myriad of uses of social media. Some benefits of the platform incorporate the capability of easily and frequently maintaining contact with family and friends, and even business acquaintances or others, especially if they do not live in a vicinity that is near our location. Furthermore, it also allows us to formulate new friendships, business contacts and such, and promote our career opportunities, among other things, without a lot of hassle or unnecessary expenses. Social media has also proven to be of great significance when it comes to creating awareness about the multiple political and social issues that are taking place around the world, along with a means of formulating events and such in protest of such problems. In this regard, then, it is easy to see how social media platforms such as Snapchat would be preferred over traditional news sources when we can interact with and create awareness about newsworthy issues on the most popular social applications that we are already frequently making use of. Social media has proven to become one of the significant methods of dissemination of information regarding the latest newsworthy articles. Rather than hiring the journalist who can come up with relevant news material social media websites let the users read, post, and share sites and web links to online newspaper articles, while a lot of them also bring forth news ideas directly to the onlookers. An example is the Trending feature present on Facebook, which is dependent heavily on an amalgamation of people and computer networks to bring about an array of the most relevant news articles. The impact on newspapers and news outlets, in general, may be quite relevant, given that social media sites result in a lot of traffic that goes the way of such news sites. However, even though social media promotes the content of news websites by direct the traffic their way, such sites also showcase specific opposing platforms with regards to posting advertisements and such. As such, even Snapchat got on board and established Snapchat Partners, which is a network that brings together advertisement companies and developers of innovative content and software, while also letting other groups promote their content via advertisements on Snapchat. Snapchat follows a very different model from most other social media applications. It allows a user to take and send temporary pictures or short videos of up to 10 seconds with captions to a contact or to post pictures with captions on to a ‘Story’ that all contacts can see. The main caveat is the fact that the user can save none of the content through any means provided by the application itself. The sender must save the content that they send by making extra efforts and toggling through screens and the time for which the recipient can view the content or ‘Snap’ is limited to a few seconds up to a maximum of 10 by the sender. The recipient can take a screenshot of the Snap if he or she has the time. However, the most recent updates of the application send a message to the sender every time the receiver does so. The purpose of this is to make communication ‘fun and spontaneous’ and also to give users a measure of privacy as content that the user shares with someone but might nevertheless wish would remain private has very little chance of being saved by someone.

Snapchat diverges significantly from other social media applications in that it is an ephemeral medium that does not allow one to save content to be viewed at a later date. This is probably one of the primary reasons for the application’s popularity, especially amongst a younger generation that has grown up in the digital and virtual age, is highly familiar with technology and has a much shorter attention span because content continually bombards it. However, studies show that users are not always happy with the aspect of Snapchat. They report a measure of discontent with the way it functions regarding media loss, meaning loss and context loss (Cavalcanti, Pinto, Brubaker & Dombrowski, 2017). The configuring of the application means that communication is speedy which means that users often, despite wanting to, miss out on saving media. Speedy communication also meant that essential media that held special meaning to the user might be lost. However, most communication on the application was considered to be so trivial that overall the content shared on it has little meaning. Finally, since previous messages did not save, users reported a context loss in the conversation if they did not immediately reply. Overall the application was considered to be mostly fun, trivial and silly use. However, the ‘silly’ aspect of the application has not kept it from being used in severe pursuits, one of which is online education. While our current teaching methods appear to make it difficult to integrate such an ephemeral tool, it has been used in the classroom as schools and universities rush to include modern technology into their curriculum. The benefits of Snapchat are keenly felt in studies involving communication such as digital assignments, foreign language learning and digital identity lessons embodying a revolution in communication if not in scholastics (Ernstberger & Venable, 2016).

However, a severe aspect of the application does emerge when it is considered in the context of being a tool to empower users when they share rich media by allowing a flexible representation of self and challenging current technical norms (McRoberts, Ma, Hall & Yarosh, 2017). It allows for experimentation of self-representation to a select audience without the constraints of needing to remain consistent. The representation too represents a divergence of sorts from the more ‘traditional’ forms of social media in the sense that since the content is not saved for the audience to view at a later date, it gives the user much more freedom of self-expression. As of 2017, Snapchat has also reached out to various college news outlets to help give rise to an edition on a campus basis regarding the company’s Discover section. Among these colleges are Dartmouth and Yale as well. This would mark the very first try of Snapchat regarding a depiction of the local editions of Discover for its followers. These new editions will be specifically apparent to only those that belong to that particular campus, and the content will vary as per the college’s criteria and interests. This, additionally, adds to one of the ongoing reasons that people, especially young adults, would prefer the use of Snapchat as the main media source as opposed to utilizing newspapers or news websites.

As such, it becomes quite understandable as to why Snapchat holds a strong appeal to users despite the plenty of disadvantages that are easily witnessed. With the growing discontent with, and distrust of corporate news media and government institutions. It is not surprising that more and more people are turning away from traditional news sources and instead rely on content created by a person they know and trust that is being generated in real time and will likely only be saved permanently if the user allows it to be by increasing the time for which it will appear when opened for example. Even though there are plenty of incidences where the news received why social media platforms such as Facebook are quite unreliable, we still prefer to trust such sources over the traditional news sources. Snapchat is perhaps the most relevant and trustworthy option out of all other social media outlets, in that people quickly make a video or take a picture that proves to authentic as Snapchat content cannot easily be fabricated as long as it exists on that particular platform. Recent allegations of privacy breaches, unethical data sharing, and manipulation against social media giants such as Facebook and the toxic environment of bullying and misbehavior that persists on other platforms have made users more differ of how much content they wish to share and with whom. Combining this with increasing restriction, scrutiny and punishment by governments all over the world for content posted online, the idea of shared news disappearing after it has been read can be taken as a modern form of burning the message to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Thus, the unprecedented control for the user both regarding who can be in possession of their data and also how they are not constrained by their past narratives or forms of self-expression, and is ultimately extremely attractive in term of the advantages it presents over newspapers and news websites. This is all a part of the evolution of the digital world and a definition of the flux that our communication methods are in.

References

Cavalcanti, L. H. C., Pinto, A., Brubaker, J. R., & Dombrowski, L. S. (2017, February). Media,

Meaning, and Context Loss in Ephemeral Communication Platforms: A Qualitative

Investigation on Snapchat. In CSCW (pp. 1934-1945).

Ernstberger, J., & Venable, M. A. (2016). Can Snapchat Bridge the Communication Chasm in

Online Courses?. eLearn, 2016(2).

McRoberts, S., Ma, H., Hall, A., & Yarosh, S. (2017, May). Share First, Save Later:

Performance of Self through Snapchat Stories. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI

Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 6902-6911). ACM.

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