The phenomenon that is social media has become a central point of analysis when evaluating events across an expanse of geographies including the Arab Spring, the events of Gezi Park and the U.S. presidential elections.
Social media is a tool that can impact societies and has the potential to supersede other social control mechanisms such as family, religion, education, community and friends, which historically have an impact on people.
With every major technological innovation, the society in which it is developed is deeply affected and certain fundamentals of the world at large have been transformed through the advent of social media.
Just as the previous iterations of mass media, new media tools have significant effects on both individuals and society. These tools can affect people in many ways, impacting things like their purchasing behavior to political preferences, and have become central to our lives, allowing the freedom of discourse that contributes to democracy.
Media has always been a persuasive tool; for example, in 1938 Orson Welles performed a live radio adaptation of "The War of the Worlds" on CBS Radio that caused hysteria in the states of New York and New Jersey.
The play, an adaptation of Herbert George Wells' novel, converted the novel into fake news bulletins describing a Martian invasion, causing listeners to scramble for supplies with many fleeing their homes to take cover in other states. Police also raided the radio station.
Even after the truth came to light, people held the radio station responsible for the panic and sued them.
Another example is the 1895 "The Arrival of a Train," the first film in the history of cinema by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere.
During the film's premiere, some people in the audience truly believed that a train was speeding toward them, triggering panic in the movie theater.
In addition to being the first film in the history of cinema, the event is also important as it showed the effect new mass communication technologies can have on people.
These environments and tools contribute to the production and distribution of information and now, a new way of consuming information has arisen.
Here the relationship between production and consumption presents itself, and the consumer structure, which reflects a transformation in consumption habits, is characteristic of today's society.
The change in production styles is organically related to consumer behavior. If there is no consumption, then production ceases. Therefore, changes in consumers' behavioral patterns are both an influencing and a dependent factor.
It is possible to reach the target audience through different methods over the internet and through social media, a process that has caused behavioral changes. Personalized messages and multiple pieces of content tailored to the individual can be sent directly to the targeted person.
Where we stand now, these methods are used as tools that determine what subjects we talk about and to what extent. We are not the ones who have control over who can see our posts or what posts we are even being exposed to.
Social platforms, generally referred to as new media or social media, have penetrated deep into our lives over the last decade. These platforms share similarities with previous forms of mass media but have more content and promise more interaction.
Earlier defined as the biggest supporters of freedom, social media platforms allow for the circulation of untruths that gets disguised in the intense flow of information, which have an agenda-setting effect. Deciding who can and cannot speak, these platforms, which have a working algorithm that we do not know the intricacies of, determine what people will and won't see on their screens.
At the same time, the platform decides the audience of a person's post. These platforms touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives, having a monopoly that threatens individuals, society, democracy and all other values.
It has become a mass propaganda tool capable of personalizing text messages, calls and the user's online experience, making people belonging to a school of thought feel special.
Developments in information and communication technologies have led to significant changes in daily life practices. The phenomenon has also changed the way citizens communicate with public institutions and how official business transactions are carried out.
Today people turn to the web to share content, create accounts, send messages, make video and audio calls over the internet and message over the internet through messaging apps.
Social media facilitates communication, making the process of reaching the target audience simple, low cost and, most importantly, interactive.
The desired message can be transmitted quickly and easily on social media, regardless of time and place, and the target audience and more can be reached at low costs.
This is only possible because of the virtual network in place thanks to the internet, which has become the new public space.
On the other hand, there is a continuous increase in business and transactions related to public institutions and organizations over the internet.
For example, when asked by public institutions and organizations how they would like to be communicated with in the future, 51.2% said over the internet in 2019 compared to 7.2% in 2007 in Turkey.
There has also been a steady increase in people choosing to interact with public institutions and organizations more online, opting to obtain and fill out official forms and documents over the web.
In light of these examples and explanations given to comprehensively understand today's societal structure and the relationships of individuals with the internet and social media, it is possible to see how social media applications can threaten today's structure.
At the same time, there is a social structure that is intertwined and open to all kinds of external effects.
Today, at this extreme level of communication we are operating in, social relations and interpersonal communication have reached new heights thanks to technological developments.
Social media applications made available over the internet have become virtual environments used by almost half of the total population within 20 years, which can be considered a relatively short period of time.
News of a development in any part of the world can reach all corners of the earth within a few hours, having an effect on the agenda of every country. A political statement made anywhere in the world can be effective worldwide within a few hours.
Over half of the world's living population has been transformed into a product by signing up for these giant companies over which we have no control. These few companies rake in more than states' gross national product thanks to their advertising revenues, data and registry of people, processing everything they can about users to commodify.
However, the public is not privy to how these companies' algorithms actually function because they are trade secrets.
Who is elected as the president of a country even seems to be confirmed by national or international media outlets, often citing "unofficial" election results.
The congratulations that pour in over social media following news of an official being elected make the situation even more apparent. Who needs to doubt the election results when congratulatory messages are pouring down from the presidents of many "powerful" countries?
What if there is election manipulation, or if one of the candidates is blocked by a company even though they have won the election?
When millions of voters are not actively involved in the process after voting at the ballot box, what tool do we have to ensure that the results are accurate, fair, honest and transparent?
An American company blocked an American president. The news of the new president reported by media organizations was enough to celebrate without waiting for an official result.
When you evaluate what happened, regardless of the candidates and without taking any party's side, don't you feel that we are faced with a strange and frightening power?
Unless there are protective laws and enforcement mechanisms, these platforms, whose control is not known precisely, will continue to threaten societies by influencing and manipulating people, setting agendas and causing behavioral changes.
*MA student at Swansea University
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