Andrew Weinreich launched “Six Degrees” in 1997. Based on the theory that every person in the world could be connected to each other by just six degrees of separation, the new web service encouraged members to share personal profiles and contacts. Now regarded as the first recognizable social networking service, Six Degrees grew to over one million members but closed in four years. MySpace and LinkedIn gained prominence in the early 2000s. By 2006, Facebook and Twitter first became available worldwide.
Social media today consists of thousands of social media platforms, each catering to specific interests. One recent study claimed the average internet user has seven social media accounts — excluding email. Almost a quarter of the world’s population (2.1 billon active members) and nearly 80% of all USA internet users are now on Facebook.
As they have grown, social networks have evolved from hosting friend and family interactions to now being used and abused in ways that significantly influence society. Pew Research claims that 62 percent of people now get their news via social media. Businesses, advertisers and political activists are learning and using new ways to influence and manipulate vast audiences. Frequent users may show signs of suffering from communication overload. Distracted driving and walking into traffic are all too commonplace. Excessive use can cause declining grades in school, difficulties in live personal interactions and sleep disturbances.
Although early adaptors of social media were primarily younger generations who became familiar with computers in school or at work, older Americans are now the fastest growing segment of social media users. Some 48 per cent of online baby boomers aged 65 to 74 now have a social media profile, as do 41 per cent of over-75s, up from 19 per cent a year ago. Around nine in 10 “social seniors” over the age of 65 opt for a Facebook account, usually at the behest of their children or grandchildren. This can be a way to share information, photos and videos in an easily accessed manner through your computer or smartphone.
While you won’t be charged for most social media services, you will indirectly pay for the privilege. Assume everything you post or “like” will be permanently available to any and all interested parties and will be regularly used for targeted advertising to you and your contacts. Even if you delete your postings, the service provider now “owns” and retains copies of everything that is or was in your account.
Be safe and think twice about anything you post online: don’t reveal personal information online! Hackers, data thieves and burglars love monitoring social media sites, often finding useful personal information such as birthdates, addresses, scheduled absences from home or expected package deliveries. Use built in privacy settings and make sure you know how to control the availability of your postings. Always be selective when accepting new “friends” and don’t click on unrecognized web links.
If you want more social networking information, AARP has a collection of FREE video tutorials at: aarptek.aarp.org/social-media