Social Media Platforms Compared

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Introduction

Social media is increasingly becoming popular and very important in modern society. According to van Dijck, when Facebook was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes many people in the corporate world considered it a platform meant for college students to communicate within the campus (23). Members of the corporate society did not view it as a technology capable of transforming the way people communicate at a global level. That is no longer the case. McDonald explains that social media has become a critical part of modern society (21). It has transformed the manner in which people communicate all over the world.

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Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are currently very popular tools of communication and sharing important information. Facebook has become so popular and addicting, especially to teenagers and young adults, that it has been targeted by political leaders in various parts of the world as a monopoly that needs regulation. During the Arab spring that started in 2010 in North Africa, social media was a critical tool that was used to communicate and organize demonstrations (Karpf 41). Social media has become so powerful that some governments are keen on regulating its usage. The corporate society has also come to appreciate its relevance as a tool that can be used to promote the brand and products of a company. It is rapidly replacing mass media marketing because of its popularity. In this paper, the focus is to compare social media.

Literature Review

The relevance of social media has attracted the attention of many scholars over the recent past. According to Tan, the mode of communication has been changing over time and technology has always been at the forefront of the transformation (41). In the past, the use of letters, telephone calls, and telegrams helped people to share information. When it was necessary to broadcast a message to a larger audience, mass media played a critical role. Mass media still play an important role in spreading information and people still use phone calls as means of communicating with family members and friends (McDonald 78). However, the emergence of social media has transformed the manner in which message is shared. Before comparing and contrasting the four social media platforms identified in this study, it is necessary to look at each of them and their main area of focus.

Facebook

Facebook is currently the dominant social media platform in the global society. In the first few years of its creation, many people who heard about it did not believe it will play a significant role in the world of communication. However, that is no longer the case. According to Nee, it is estimated that Facebook has over 2.2 billion active users across the world (27). The number of Facebook users has been increasing, especially among young adults and teenagers. For one to use Facebook, he or she has to register and create an account.

The website has become very innovative as it tries to meet the changing needs of its customers. In the past, users could only share text messages and pictures. However, it is now possible to share videos as well. The dynamic nature of the company’s products and its ability to understand and promptly respond to the needs of the customers is often considered revolutionary. It is available in 140 languages and the company is keen on making it available in some of the indigenous languages across the world (Nee 62). Based on the current trends and the speed with which this social media platform is growing, it is expected to dominate global communication in the years to come.

Twitter

Twitter was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Noah Glass as a platform for sharing news using hand-held devices (van Dijck 34). Like Facebook, its users must create their accounts to use it. Users are restricted to 140 characters as a way of ensuring that a message passed is short, precise, and focused on achieving a specific goal. It has about 500 registered users all over the world (Karpf 56). Unlike Facebook which has been popular among the youth, Twitter is popular among middle-aged and senior citizens, especially those who are active in the corporate world. It is considered a more formal social media platform than the others. The fact that its users are restricted to only 140 characters means that the information they pass has to be specific, making it easy for others to read and respond if necessary.

According to Tan, this social media platform proved critical in the 2016 general election in the United States (31). Given the perception that people have created about this website in regard to regulating the contents shared, many people tend to consider it a reliable source of information. It explains why the Americans used it to get election updates during the last general election. The business community and political leaders in North America and around the world actively use this platform to share relevant information and updates on emerging trends. The management of this company has made an effort to make it possible for people to use the website irrespective of the language. As long as the targeted audience can understand the message shared, the management does not restrict users to specific languages. However, it keenly monitors the information shared to ensure that it is used responsibly.

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Snapchat

Snapchat is another social media platform that has gained popularity in modern society. Founded in 2011 by Evan Spiegel, Reggie Brown, and Bobby Murphy, it has attracted about 200 million active users globally (Lindgren 86). It principal concept is to allow its users to share pictures accompanied by short messages. The vision of its founders was to enable the users to record and share life events, especially when on a party, hike, or trip. It allows friends to be updated on the events that a person is involved with at a given time. Initially, the app focused on the person-to-person concept of sharing photos (Karpf 37). However, it has evolved and it is now possible to share the same with a larger audience. One of the unique characteristics of this website is that the content is short-lived.

The chronological pictures and messages that one share with friends are only available for 24 hours. It is in line with the intended goal of enabling users to keep friends updated on the events they are engaged in at a particular time. Its users require hand-held devices such as android and iPhone. It is particularly popular among college students and regular hikes. It is available in numerous languages. Just like the two social media platforms discussed above, users of Snapchat are required to create an account to share information with friends. A message shared by an individual through this website will only be seen by the followers.

Instagram

Instagram is the last social media that will be covered in this report. Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the platform is often viewed as a direct competitor of Snapchat (McDonald 67). It was initially created on iOS but it has since been made available on android devices, Windows 10, and Windows 10 Mobile (McDonald 74). The platform allows its users to share instant photos and videos of what they are doing at a given moment. It developed special software that allows users to edit photos and videos that are already uploaded. Alternatively, one can opt to share live feeds with followers. Users are required to follow the same steps mentioned of the other social media platform. They have to register to create an account then create a pool of followers.

One can post a picture or a video supported by short messages to explain a given point to the followers. They can like or tag themselves in such photos or express their views. The ease of its use has seen it attract over 800 million users across the world. Soon after it was acquired by Facebook in 2012, it was taken through major changes to make it more sensitive to the needs of the users. The app makes it possible for pre-approved followers to determine the location of a user as proof that they are in a particular place. According to Nee, this social media platform, just like the ones above, has faced criticism and in some cases even censorship, in some countries for the kind of freedom that its users have when sharing information with followers (53).

Methodology

When conducting research, it is important to develop a clear method that guides the process of collecting and analyzing the relevant data. The methodology section provides the needed plan. In this section, the researcher will identify the approach used in gathering information used in informing the study.

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Data Collection

According to Achari, the method used in data collection depends on the nature of the research and the time available for the study (56). In this project, the primary focus was to compare Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat as some of the leading social media platforms in modern society. It was desirable to collect primary data from the respondents to determine their views on this issue. However, the limited time available for the study made it necessary to use desktop research instead. It means that data was gathered from secondary sources. To ensure that current data is collected from these sources, the researcher ensured that books used areas recently published as possible.

Data Analysis

After gathering data from the relevant sources, a detailed discussion of the findings was provided in chapter 4 of the documents. Information gathered from these sources was used to inform the arguments provided in this paper. It made it possible to understand similarities and differences that exist among the four main social media platforms.

Ethical Considerations

In every research project, one is expected to observe a number of ethical considerations. Given that primary data was not collected, issues about protecting the identity of the respondents and getting permission from relevant authorities were not necessary. However, it was still important to ensure that the document is completed within the right time set by the school. Plagiarism was avoided in this document. Information gathered from secondary sources was appropriately referenced using Modern Language Association (MLA) format.

Results and Discussion

Similarities

When comparing social media, van Dijck argues that one can take different approaches to conduct the analysis (56). One of the approaches that one can take is to look at the commonalities and differences in their benefits to society. These platforms offer similar benefits to their users, making them crucial in modern society. Some of these benefits were not envisioned by their creators but emerged as many people started using them. The following are some of the ways in which different social media platforms have positively transformed the global society.

Communication

Each of these social media platforms is meant to facilitate communication (Karpf 54). One of the most defining characteristics of human beings is the desire to communicate. The social nature of people makes communication one of their basic needs. Face-to-face communication was often viewed as the most effective way of sharing information. However, with the constant movement of people across the globe, alternative means of communication had to emerge. Social media platforms have proven to be the most proactive and effective way of sharing messages. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, one can communicate with family and friends irrespective of their geographic location as long as they have internet connectivity. These platforms allow users to pass their messages either to specific individuals or members of the public depending on the intended goals. Facebook has transformed its system to allow its clients to use words, videos, and pictures to pass their message.

The followers can then react to such posts accordingly. Although people still use phone calls as a means of getting instant feedback from the targeted audience, social media is rapidly taking the center stage in the field of communication. According to McDonald, leading mass media houses around the world have come to appreciate the significance of social media in facilitating effective communication, especially among the youth (69). It is now possible to watch television news through social media. Instead of viewing it as a competitor and a threat, mass media stations have come to embrace social media as a platform that can enable them to reach a larger audience. They also rely on these platforms to get instant feedback from their viewers about the quality of programs they present and the changes that they desire. In retrospect, social media is emerging as a complementary forum for the mass media when it comes to passing the right information to a wider audience within the shortest time possible.

Entertainment

One of the fundamental goals common in all social media platforms is to offer entertainment to their users. According to Nee, one of the strategies that social media platforms have used to make sure that they attract more users is to offer the kind of entertainment that is popular (59). Facebook and Twitter have made it possible for people to share jokes based on current events. Snapchat and Instagram allow users to share videos and pictures which are relevant to a given group of people. One of the benefits of the entertainment available in social media is that one only needs a smartphone and internet connectivity. One no longer needs to be at home at a specific time to watch a popular television program.

The same can be made available on social media platforms. There is also a variety of entertainment available on these platforms. One can share music or a video clip on his or her Facebook page. The shared video will be available to other users. McDonald explains that these social media platforms have been keen on ensuring that people remain responsible while entertaining themselves on their websites (59). Some graphical contents that one group may find entertaining may be offensive to another group. These firms have embraced a policy that requires users to be responsible. While having fun, one must ensure that the rights and comfort of others is respected. These platforms also make a regular review of the postings made by the users to ensure that they are age-appropriate and do not go against the set laws and regulations within the country.

Nurturing Talents

Social media have also become a critical tool in nurturing talents in modern society. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are increasingly becoming popular among upcoming artists who are yet to find their way into the mainstream media. According to van Dijck, mass media tend to be bureaucratic and it is not easy for them to absorb individuals who are yet to horn their skills in their respective fields (56). Their model of business makes such strict policies unavoidable. Viewers cherish quality and consistency in the programs presented on television and radio stations. When a new artist approaches these stations, these are the two critical factors that they consider. They start by reviewing the quality of the content presented. If it fails to meet the expectations, it is dropped immediately.

In case it passes the initial test, it is taken to the next one where the media station will determine the ability to provide such quality content consistently and for a required period. If these qualities are not met, such a program may not be presented in the traditional media. However, that is not the case when it comes to all the social media platforms currently in use. Instead of waiting for an individual station to define the future of an artist, he or she can directly reach the audience through social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat all have the option of sharing videos. An artist can prepare a short script of what he needs to present to the audience. It may be a song, a short play, or a comedy. The posts may be ignored in the initial postings. However, with time they become acceptable. As the content becomes more appealing, the artist will succeed in drawing the attention of the world to their presentations. Many artists have found their way to success through these social media platforms.

The best thing about them is that one does not need to go through strict scrutiny, which is sometimes biased. With the right talent and commitment, one would be assured of getting the right attention needed to achieve success. According to Fuchs, athletes have also benefited from these websites, especially those in developing countries such as Africa (40). Some of the aerobics needed to keep these athletes fit and capable of competing on the world stage require special training. However, some of these athletes do not have trainers who can guide them on their way to success. Videos and manuals shared on these platforms act as an important guide to them in absence of trainers. The 2016 Summer Olympic Gold Medalist in the javelin, Julius Yego from Africa, is one of the beneficiaries of training manuals available on social media (Tan 54).

Marketing

Social media marketing is another revolutionary factor that is common among all four social media platforms. In marketing, the primary goal is to reach the targeted group of customers with the right message and at the right time about a given brand and its products. Companies spend billions of dollars every year to promote their products (Karpf 64). Advertising is unavoidable in the current competitive business environment. Numerous reasons may make it necessary to reach out to the public through promotional campaigns. It may be because a new product is launched in the market and the firm feels that customers are still not aware of its existence or where it can be purchased. Sometimes a firm may need to inform the loyal customers of the changes made in the product to improve its quality or possible changes in price. In other cases, it may be driven by the desire to make a brand or a specific product more popular in the market. In the past, mass media marketing was considered the main way of reaching out to customers.

Television and radio commercials were very popular and effective in passing the right message to customers. However, that is rapidly changing in modern society. At first, top corporate executives dismissed the relevance of social media as a tool that can be used as an advertising platform. The reality in modern society has disapproved of these critics. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become more popular among advertising companies than social media. Facebook has over 2 billion active users while Instagram has close to one billion (Lindgren 113). It means that by using these two social media platforms, a firm is able to reach out to over 3 billion users worldwide. Unlike television commercials that are often presented in a given language, mass media can easily be translated to different languages so that it can reach as many people as possible. This is a common revenue source for all social media firms around the world. The revenues generated from such adverts help in sustaining their operations. Most of the founders of these social media platforms have become billionaires and multimillionaires because of this similar model of income generation.

Fighting Good Governance

Social media has become a major tool used in promoting proper leadership in various parts of the world. Modern society is becoming increasingly sensitive about the manner in which they are governed. They scrutinize the manner in which their tax money is spent by the government and criticize acts of impunity, corruption, and misappropriation of public resources. According to McDonald, in the past, society had to rely on mass media to champion such discussions and to help keep the government on the right path (78). The problem was that it was easy for the government to silence these mass media stations. Journalists were either bribed or threatened not to expose evil deals of those in authority. Social media platforms are all changing the narrative. Facebook and Twitter have become powerful platforms where leadership and governance are discussed. People can directly reach out to specific political leaders and express their frustration at their disappointing performance in their respective officers. When there is a major scandal in the government such as rampant misappropriation of funds, the information can easily be leaked to the media where members of the public will discuss it and demand a response from the government.

According to Tan, political leaders know that they can no longer risk ignoring members of the public when they start expressing their agitation through social media (74). The Arab Spring was driven by social media. In Egypt, the country’s strong man, President Hosni Mubarak, was forced out of office despite the immense support he had of the country’s top military officers. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler, who was very popular for transforming the economy of the country, was not only forced out of office but assassinated in the process because of the campaigns that started in the social media. In Yemen and Syria, hundreds of lives have been lost as people sustain the fight against what they consider poor governance. When the governments of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia realized that their people had started expressing their dissatisfaction with government policies through social media, they had to act very first. New policies were introduced in these countries to make life more comfortable and affordable to the majority.

After analyzing the common benefits of social media, it is necessary to look at the common disadvantages that they present. As discussed above, the creators of these social media platforms had noble intentions of making the world a better place through improved interaction. They wanted people to communicate with ease irrespective of their location. However, they did not know that they were also creating a platform for criminals and social misfits to engage in criminal activities. Social media has received as much criticism as it has praise. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have become perfect platforms through which these criminals achieve selfish goals by hurting others. The degree to which these social media platforms are used for evil reasons depends on their geographical coverage and popularity within a given area. The most commonly used platforms are more popular among these criminals than those used by a select few. Similarly, social media platforms with wide geographic coverage are considered more effective by these social misfits. The degree to which each is used may vary, but the common factor is that they help in achieving similar sinister goals. The following are some of the common social evils facilitated by these platforms.

Addiction

Addiction is one of the common problems associated with social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are all addictive. According to Nee, some people are so addicted to these social media that they cannot spend more than one hour without visiting them (90). Social media, just like other platforms for communication such as phone calls and e-mails, are meant to facilitate communication and sharing. It means that one is expected to use them when there is a need to share something or talk to someone. However, people tend to get so addicted that they end up spending most of their time using them. Karpf identifies Facebook as one of the most addictive social media platforms (74). The improvements that the company made on this website make it so entertaining and addictive to many. Employers have been complaining that many workers spend most of their time on social media, especially those working in officers using personal computers. It may seem that an officer is busy working while the truth is that he or she is on social media. The addiction reduces the performance of the employee significantly.

Addiction to social media is worse among teenagers. Institutions of higher learning have identified social media as one of the top reasons why students do not concentrate on their studies. When a teacher is in class, a student will spend most of the time chatting with friends. Once the classes are over and assignments are given to them, they rarely have time to work on their homework. In a report by McDonald, some students spend as much as 14 hours a day on social media (32). They do not have time for friends and family away from Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Group assignments are becoming less popular among such students unless the discussion is based on social media. As Tan admits, it is not wrong to have group discussions conducted online (48). However, every group member is expected to conduct personal research to have something valid that can be presented to colleagues during the discussion. Unfortunately, the addicts of social media have limited time to conduct personal research. They lack the time for their studies, leading to poor performance.

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are addictive to the youth. On the other hand, Twitter is addictive to the political class. In the recent elections in North America and Europe, politicians have remained very active on Twitter, trying to sell their policies to the masses. In the United States, it was a major tool that was used by both major parties to reach out to the audience. Lindgren explains that the perception that has been created that Twitter is more reliable than other forms of social media has led to its popularity among business executives and politicians (58). The current president of the United States has often been criticized for his addiction to Twitter. Most of his major policies are often shared on his Twitter handle, something that many consider unethical. Despite the criticism, the president still uses his Twitter handle to communicate to the public on important issues. It is a clear demonstration of how powerful addiction can be irrespective of one’s position in society.

Illegal and Improper Content

One of the main problems common among all the four social media platforms is the ease with which illegal and improper content is made available. Mass media operate under strict rules and regulations set by the national government and international conventions. Before releasing any content to members of the public, an editor is expected to go through it to ensure that it is ethical, legal, and appropriate for the target audience. The media companies know that they can be held responsible for any information that fails to meet the set standards. The same is not true when it comes to social media. As Fuchs puts it, social media has handed over the power of journalism to people who lack integrity and knowledge of how to share information responsibly (61). It has made it possible for people to share what is in their minds without taking into consideration the feelings of others.

It is illegal in the most countries for one to take and publish a complete photo of a dead person, especially if the face is seriously mutilated (McDonald 32). Journalists are often required to show the lower torso because some people cannot withstand such graphic content. These rules rarely apply on social media. In fact, many share such grisly photos without even realizing that they are going against the law. More recently, terror groups have opted to use social media such as Facebook and Instagram to show how they torture and kill their captives. Some of these videos are shared live when the events are happening. Instead of being a tool that creates harmony, social media is becoming a platform where criminals and terrorists demonstrate to the world their power and the level of their ruthlessness. In many cases, such videos and photos are eliminated soon after they are detected to have improper content. However, it may be too late to repair the damage, especially if such images are already shared or even downloaded.

Adult-only materials are meant to be kept away from children as much as possible. Burke argues that children tend to be sensitive to restrictive materials, especially teenagers (22). Mass media has remained responsible in ensuring that such contents are not available for those who are not of the legal age. However, social media has no restrictions. People often upload pictures and videos inappropriate for children’s consumption. They forget that there are millions of children below 18 years who are actively using these platforms. Such improper content may have a devastating impact on a child. They corrupt the mind and may lead a child into engaging in practices that may put them in danger. Facebook and Instagram are particularly blamed because of the tool that allows its users to make live recordings. The website does not take time to filter the content before making it available to the public. Instead, it makes it instantly available. By the time it is determined to be inappropriate for general public consumption and deleted, it may be too late.

Illegal Activities

Social media is becoming a major platform through which people conduct illegal activities. Pimping is one such activity which is facilitated by the social media. Most of these pimps disguise themselves as massage parlors. They advertise their services on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (Lindgren 54). The problem is not unique to Canada, the United States, or Europe. It is common in both developing and developed worlds.

The worst affected group is teenage girls. They are lured by criminals into believing their lies only to find themselves being used as prostitutes in major urban centers. The main problem is that in many cases the government is reactive. They wait for someone to complain so that an investigation can be launched. It is known to the authorities that these pimps use social media to advertise their services and to reach out to their customers. However, nothing has ever been done to address the problem in a proactive manner. This may be because the country is yet to have strict laws that govern the usage of social media and the kind of content that can be shared (Karpf 77). The authorities may have full knowledge of these activities but the manner in which they are conducted creates legal challenges to the relevant officers.

Drug trafficking is also becoming a booming business thanks to the increasing popularity of social media. In most of the developing countries, it is common to find so many learned individuals who are jobless and live below the poverty lines as set by the international community. These individuals often express their frustration in social media, especially Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Top drug lords often monitor such communications keenly to identify who to recruit to facilitate their activities. They prefer recruiting college graduates who are smart enough to avoid being captured. Police officers find it difficult to deal with such individuals who are using sophisticated strategies to achieve their goals. The knowledge earned in college is applied to break the law. Most of their customers are also available online. Using coded language in social media, they can easily smuggle and sell drugs without being detected by the authorities.

Human trafficking is another social problem that is facilitated by social media. According to Tan, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are popular with these criminals because of their similar features that can be used to target unsuspecting victims (65). Most of these criminals often assume fake identities and become followers of their targeted individuals. They start posting pictures and editing videos of them having fun in different locations to entice their targets. Teenagers are easily enticed, and their desire to join such parties makes them easy targets. When they inquire about ways in which they can join such parties, they are guided to their own trap.

Human trafficking in modern society affects both developed and developing countries. Lindgren says that once such victims are taken into custody, they become prisoners of the captors and are used in different ways (81). The most common destination of these victims, especially young girls is top brothels around the world. A report by McDonald shows that many young girls are captured and sold to serve in entertainment houses in major cities around the world (74). Race, religion, and social status do not matter as long as one can be lured into the trap of these criminals. The same social media is used once again to advertise the services offered by the victims.

A dangerous and highly inhumane trend is emerging where people are captured and their organs harvested while they are still alive. They are then left to die painfully after the organs are taken away. Facebook and Twitter are the perfect platforms where these criminals conduct their trade. It is the platform where they get both their clients and the victims of these criminal acts. Some body organs are very expensive. The traffickers work closely with doctors who instruct them on the body organs that are needed the most.

Human traffickers lure their targets through social media and capture them. They are then sent to the hospitals where the organs are harvested. Their bodies are always desecrated in a way that it will never be found. Most of them are interred just to eliminate any possibility of being traced ever again. Such incidences have become common in unstable states such as Libya where victims are lured with the promise of being sent to Europe as immigrant workers. Similar reports have also been witnessed in China and Russia, but governments in these countries often dismiss such claims and limit the possibility of conducting further investigations to protect the countries’ image internationally. As Carrigan says, a lack of reports does not mean these incidences do not occur (19). Sometimes it may be worse in states where there are no such reports.

Some of the victims are sent into slavery where they have to work for long hours with minimal or no pay. Karpf argues that when slavery and the slave trade were abolished in North America, many thought that the vice will never be witnessed again in the region (119). In fact, the United States and Canada have been at the forefront in the fight against the slave trade and slavery soon after gaining independence. However, the vice is gaining popularity very rapidly. The Middle East and parts of North Africa are becoming the epicenter of slavery and slave trade in the modern society. Using Facebook and other social media platforms, jobs are advertised in some of the developing nations.

Unsuspecting individuals end up applying for these jobs not knowing what awaits them in these foreign countries. As soon as they arrive, their passports, mobile phones, and other important documents are confiscated by the cartels. They are left at the mercy of their employers. A report by Nee shows that a significant number of workers involved in Qatar’s infrastructural development in preparation for the World Cup 2020 are slaves (38). They work under poor conditions and a lot is expected of them. Their salaries go to cartels who then determine the amount of money they are given periodically. Many of them have died in the country because of the harsh treatments they are subjected to in these foreign countries.

The problem that is common among all the four social media platforms under investigation is that they are yet to find the solution to some of these social problems they have created. For instance, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are perfect platforms that criminals use to lure and capture their targets for various reasons. However, it is not easy to use the same platforms to capture criminals. There is no proper identification that is always required when one is creating an account used in these crimes. An account can easily be created that specifically targets a few individuals. Once they are captured, these accounts are deleted or they just become dormant. Officers find it frustrating trying to trace these elusive individuals. At that time, they have new accounts that no one suspects and they continue with their business as usual. Carrigan reports that it is possible to trace specific locations where a social media account was used with the help of emerging technologies (65). The problem is that most of these criminals know about these technologies. Soon after committing the crime, they change their location immediately and stop using their accounts. It becomes difficult to identify them or trace their current locations and activities.

Hate Speech

It remains one of the biggest challenges common in all the social media platforms across the world. According to Burke, Facebook and Twitter are popular means of sharing information at an international level (43). These platforms are becoming tools used to spread messages that create discord in society. During political campaigns, many people use social media to reach out to their target audience with messages they believe will convince them to join their camps. In many cases, rival groups are forced to discredit their opponents using different strategies. It gets worse when they start using hate speech as a means of achieving their goals. Fuchs notes that hate speech is not only used during campaigns (63). It has become a tool that is used by many to target those with varying opinions or minority groups. In Africa, tribalism is a major problem that society has to deal with on a regular basis. Verbal attacks are common, especially during public discourses that put one tribe against the other. In western society, the problem is racism. Using Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, many people are spreading hate that targets various groups. Many prominent people in North America have been criticized for using their Twitter handle or Facebook accounts to spread information that is viewed as divisive and belittling some members of society.

Fake News

It is another problem that is common in the social media platforms. As Carrigan explains, social media has completely changed journalism in the modern society (83). Anyone can post anything that they wish. The problem with that is that they can easily mislead the society. In the past, people relied on newspapers, television, and radio stations to learn new things. However, that is no longer the case in the modern society. Young adults and adolescents rarely have time for news presented on mass media platforms. They rely on social media where they spend most of their time. When a person spreads false news, it spreads very quickly and it may have a devastating impact. The message can be shared by numerous people and by the time the mistake is corrected, it may be too late to repair the damage. In many cases, such fake news is targeted at specific individuals or corporations with the goal of discrediting their reputation. A good example is the smear campaign that targeted Domino’s Pizza.

On April 15, 2009, a group of three employees of Domino’s Pizza decided to video record themselves engaging in unhygienic practices while in the kitchen (Fuchs 73). In the short video clip, two employees are seen inserting the dough into their noses as they prepared the pizza. The clip shows the employees presenting the pizza, prepared under extreme unhygienic conditions, being presented to an unsuspecting customer. When the video was uploaded on social media, it elicited massive uproar among those who regularly use the product. Within the first few hours after uploading the clip, it had attracted millions of viewers in the United States alone (Lindgren 121). It drew the attention of the top management of the company. Although the firm was able to address the issue, the incident had a serious negative impact on the firm’s image both locally and internationally.

Differences

When comparing the four social media platforms, it is important to appreciate that despite the numerous similarities discussed above there are also significant differences that are worth discussing. The fact that they are direct competitors in a growing market of social media has made them make adjustments almost in a similar way. However, each of them still has defining characteristics that attract people of varying needs. When looking at the difference between these social media platforms, it may be necessary to discuss how each of them is unique when compared with the rest. The following are the fundamental differences of the social media platforms that distinguish each from the rest.

Facebook

Facebook is currently the most powerful social media platform in the world, having over 2.2 billion users. According to Fuchs, one factor that makes Facebook unique compared to the other three platforms is its ease of use (85). Even when one is not keen on making active contributions in a given forum, he or she can remain entertained by going through the posts and comments of others. The other three social media platforms are popular among the younger generation, especially those who are under the age of 35 years. However, Facebook has gained massive acceptance among people of all ages. In fact, it is the social media platform that the elder members of the society, especially those who are more than 55 years, are now embracing in North America (Carrigan 112). Another unique factor about this platform is that it is popular in both developed and developing countries. It has become the primary social media site that everyone wants to belong to.

The website has developed unique features that allow its users to use different approaches to pass their messages. They can use pictures, words, videos, and Uniform Resource Locator (URL) depending on the message that is being passed across. A report by Luttrell shows that the website is more popular among females (53%) than it is among males (46). The ease of its usage may be a major factor why it is more popular among female users. According to Burke, Facebook is the most addictive social media because of the numerous features available to its users (52). The fact that two people can chat without allowing unwanted parties to join the conversation is one of the defining features that has made it become a dominant social network platform. It means that when one signs into his or her Facebook account, the goal may be to communicate with a friend, share something, learn what is new, or just to get entertainment.

Twitter

It is another powerful social media platform that boasts over 500 million active users around the world (Lindgren 112). It is the only social media platform that has a near balanced number of male and female users. The platform is also popular among business executives and top political leaders. The fact that tweets are limited to only 14 characters, means that one has to be precise when passing a message. The limited number of characters makes it significantly different from other platforms such as Facebook where such limitations do not exist. It is more popular among urban dwellers than rural. As Luttrell reports, twitter has fewer features than Facebook (51). The website has now made it possible for users to share short video clips and photos, but the quality is still an issue. Tweets are considered the most appropriate means of communication on this platform.

Unlike Facebook that is attracting the older members of the society, Twitter is gaining massive popularity among young adults aged 18-29 (Fuchs 109). It is the only social media platform in North America that is currently more popular among African Americans than other social media platforms. Users can create hash-tags when they intend to reach a greater number of audiences. However, when they are only targeting their followers, normal tweets are often used. Although all social media platforms have been criticized for spreading fake news and unverified information, many view Twitter as the most reliable of them all. The real-time engagement opportunities that it offers to its users make it easy to verify any claims within a short time and dispel false information before it can spread. This particular characteristic has made it popular among the political class because it enables them to dispel misleading information within the shortest time possible.

Snapchat

This social media platform enables its users to share pictures and short messages as an alternative to using a short message system (SMS). Lindgren explains that “One of the principal concepts of Snapchat is that pictures and messages are only available for a short time before they become inaccessible” (57). This is so because the goal was to share information about events that one is undertaking or facts that one has to deal with at a given time. It is believed that after 24 hours, the information becomes irrelevant, hence it is automatically eliminated. This feature is common with Instagram but different from the concept used in Facebook. Initially, it only allowed its users to engage in person-to-person photo sharing as a means of communication (Burke 69). However, that has changed significantly to enable users to share short chronological stories that can accompany the photos. Such changes are in line with the changing demands of its customers.

According to Luttrell, Snapchat has distinguished itself as a platform that strongly supports the usage of augmented reality and virtual stickers (81). It is taking entertainment to the next level and it puts it a step ahead of its rivals in this area. The use of three-dimensional (3-D) images is gaining popularity in the entertainment world and in other professional fields. In entertainment, it makes users have virtual reality in the kind of entertainment they are having. This feature has made Snapchat very popular among users across different ages. Carrigan explains that these unique characteristics often make people to shift from using Facebook and Twitter regularly to use Snapchat (99). It is currently available in 22 languages. Its engineers are working on ways to make it available in more languages as it struggles to gain more active users around the world.

Instagram

Instagram is popular among teenagers and young adults. Unlike the other three social media platforms, Instagram mainly targets those who like traveling, hiking, and other adventurous activities. It was meant to allow its users to share real-time pictures and videos of their activities. The followers can understand the events that an individual is going through and make instant comments. One can also get the much needed advice when necessary especially by those who have experience at the activities they are undertaking (Burke 86). Through live videos, this website allows users to share the fun they are having with friends and members of the public. One can use filters to define who can view the live feeds. It is possible to make posts available to members of the public or just a few friends. In Facebook, posts can last for as long as one would desire, not unless it is eliminated by the company because of a possible violation of rules and regulations set. However, posts on Instagram are only accessible to others within a period of 24 hours, after which it is automatically deleted. It is currently available in 36 languages.

Conclusion

Social media platforms have redefined the manner in which people communicate around the world. Founders of these platforms identified a need and developed unique products that meet them in the best way possible. At first, most of them were dismissed as inconsequential but through consistency and commitment towards addressing the gap identified, they have become critical medium of communication in the modern society. Facebook currently has over 2.2 billion active users while Instagram has close to one billion. Twitter and Snapchat are also important platforms used to share information. When comparing different social media platforms, the approach used in this paper is to discuss their usage and functionality. It comes out clearly that social media can be used either positively or negatively depending on the intention of an individual. They are all used to facilitate sharing of information among people irrespective of their physical location.

One can use pictures, videos, or texts to pass their message to their intended audience. It is also evident that all of them can be used as means of fighting for good governance. Instead of relying on mass media to monitor the activities of the government and to express the frustration of the masses, social media has handed over that power and responsibility to the people. A movement can easily be created in any of these platforms to address social injustices and poor governance. If it eliminated some of the top African dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, it is clear that political leaders cannot ignore a movement that is started in the social media. The paper also shows that talents can be nurtured through these websites. Despite these benefits, all of the four websites have been criticized for facilitating social evils such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, hate speech, and the spreading of inappropriate content. In terms of functionality, there are a number of differences that distinguish each of these social media platforms. Twitter limits its users to only 140 characters while Snapchat allows a post to last for only 24 hours.

Works Cited

Achari, Prakash D. Research Methodology. Horizon Books, 2014.

Burke, Fauzia. Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016.

Carrigan, Mark. Social Media for Academics. Sage Publications, 2016.

Fuchs, Christian. Social Media: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed., Sage Publications, 2017.

Karpf, David. Analytic Activism: Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Lindgren, Simon. Digital Media and Society. Sage Publications, 2017.

Luttrell, Regina. Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. 3rd ed., Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

McDonald, Tom. Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks. UCL Press, 2016.

Nee, Ines. Managing Negative Word-of-Mouth on Social Media Platforms: The Effect of Hotel Management Responses on Observers’ Purchase Intention. Springer Gabler, 2016.

Tan, Corinne. Regulating Content on Social Media: Copyright, Terms of Service and Technological Features. UCL Press, 2018.

Van Dijck, José. The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2013.

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