The world’s social media giants have, at last,
Facebook alone employs 7,500 moderators to police its content, following appalling livestreaming of suicides and murders. It is a massive task and takes its toll on the employees who have to view distressing content.
The power that the social media companies wield is unprecedented in global history. They have spawned
The social media companies may have more influence than governments which, unlike social media, are responsible primarily for the welfare of their home citizens but have limited global impact through international treaties.
Take a moment to compare social media with what has gone before, in what was once mainstream media. At its height, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan had the world’s largest circulation with a combined morning and evening figure of 14.3 million. The Ahasi Shibun had a circulation of 11 million through its morning and evening editions. USA Today had 2.6 million. Now newspapers regard their online presence as being more important than their print editions. TV companies can be ecstatic if they reach an audience of anywhere near 20 million for a particular programme.
Social media companies dwarf these figures, massively. They are the big, friendly giants—and sometimes not so friendly. Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly active users and 1.82 billion daily active users. I am one of them. Twitter has 15.2 million daily users. In a decade it has captured one billion active users and 500 million daily tweets—higher than the population of South America. Google generates 5.5 billion searches every day. Some 197 million people visit Amazon, the world’s largest ecommerce platform, every month.
The figures are staggering. Yet some of these companies did not even exist 30 years ago. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004; Twitter by Jack Dorsey in March 2006; Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in September 1998, when they were PhD students at Stanford University. Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in his garage in July 1994. In 2015 it overtook Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the USA, according to its market capitalization. Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates earlier, in April 1975. Instagram, owned by Facebook, did not appear until October 2010. Founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, it attracted one million registered users after only two months.
These are now among the world’s largest corporations. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (which owns Google) and Facebook are in the top six, including the second largest, Saudi Aramco oil company, according to their market capitalization. Apple leapfrogged Aramco into first place at the end of January. These companies have made their founders amongst the world’s richest entrepreneurs.
Of course, none of us needs to use these companies. We do so for convenience, sometimes overruling our scruples. We may be aware of reports that
I personally try to avoid Google in favour of the Berlin-based
We all have a choice about what social media we use, how we use them and how often. We might use social media to keep in touch with our network of friends, as I do—or to troll, which can lead to tragic consequences including suicides. The use of social media for good or ill all depends on our human motivations and the values we live by. We all have a responsibility for its content. We can either be addicted to it, or let it hang loose and know when to ignore it. We can run its content rather than letting it run us.
Social media has transformed the way we do things for millions of us around the world. And because we all participate in it, social media is ultimately democratic. We all benefit from it—and are all complicit in its use. Like democracy, we get the social media we deserve.
Michael Smith is a freelance journalist and author who spent many years working with Initiatives of Change. Recently retired, he was Head of Business Programmes at Initiatives of Change UK, 2012-2017. His latest book titled Leading with Integrity centers on 'creating positive change in organizations' and includes case stories around the Initiatives of Change focus on ethical leadership.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.