Social networks are digital platforms formed by communities of individuals with common interests, activities, or relationships (such as friendship, kinship, work). Social networks allow contact between people and function as a means to communicate and exchange information.
Individuals do not necessarily have to know each other before coming into contact through a social network. Still, they can do so through it, which is one of the greatest benefits of virtual communities.
Social networks can be classified into two types:
- Horizontal or generic social networks. They are those social networks that do not have a specific theme, but rather target all users. These networks function as a means of communication, information, or entertainment. They are very numerous and popular, for example, Facebook or Twitter.
- Vertical social networks. They are those social networks that relate people with specific interests in common, such as music, hobbies, sports. For example, Flickr, a social network whose theme is photography. Within these networks are professional vertical networks, such as LinkedIn, which involve individuals who share the work environment or who seek to expand their work boundaries.
In general, entering a social network is very simple since it simply involves filling out a questionnaire with basic personal data and thus obtaining a username and password that will be used by the user to enter the network privately. As long as the user meets the requirements for registration in the said network (for example, legal age), they can do so simply and quickly.
The nineties were characterized by the appearance of the web (www), a technology that facilitated access to the Internet for many people. Social networks have their origin in the second half of the nineties and have been developing from then until today.
Classmates are considered the first social network. It was created in 1995 by the American Randy Conrads. This social network sought to connect with former college and university classmates virtually. As the project was successful, new networks began to appear to bring together friends and acquaintances.
In 1997 SixDegrees was created, a network that made it possible to contact other network members, create a profile, and create lists of friends. SixDegrees was based on the “six degrees of separation” theory, which states that all people are six people away from anyone else on the planet. This social network was active until 2001.
In 2003 Friendster emerged, a network that allowed you to contact other members and share content online with them (photos, videos, links). It was active with a large presence of users until 2015. In 2003, LinkedIn was also created, a labor social network to search, recommend, or offer a job.
In response to the popularity of Friendster, MySpace emerged in 2003. Created by a marketing agency, this network was especially dedicated to music and technology. By 2009, MySpace was the social network with the highest user traffic.
MySpace lost its grip with the arrival and rise of Facebook, which emerged in 2004 and was very popular due to its platform, the growing development of the Internet, and mobile devices’ appearance with an Internet connection. In fact, in the first decade of the 21st century, some social networks with the largest number of users emerged.
In 2005, the YouTube video platform emerged and was acquired by Google in 2006. In 2006, Twitter, a microblogging social network, appeared. In 2010, Instagram was created, which allows you to share videos and photos; and Pinterest, which allows users to create personal boards with images, writing, and videos.
In 2011 Snapchat was created, the social network that popularized ephemeral messaging. Although it was very popular and was one of the fastest-growing applications, Snapchat fell behind Facebook when it acquired Instagram in 2012 and then WhatsApp in 2014.
One of the latest developments in social networks is Tik-Tok, a Chinese origin platform that allows you to create and share videos. In 2018 it merged with Musical.ly and was one of the networks with the largest flow of young users, available in 39 languages.
The story behind Facebook and Twitter
Some of the most popular social networks are Facebook and Twitter.
- Facebook. It was created in 2004 by a group of students led by Mark Zuckerberg, to keep in contact with the students of Harvard University (USA). Facebook began to gain popularity in the student environment to expand its target later. Before long, anyone with an email account could join. The translation of the network into several languages allowed its worldwide expansion. Today this social network has more than 2000 million users.
- Twitter It was created in 2006 and is a social network that allows you to publish short texts (of 140 characters), which are popularly known as “tweets” and appear on the home page of the user who publishes them. Each individual subscribed to the network can choose to “follow” other users and see their publications’ content.
- Communicate and share. Social networks function as platforms for the exchange of information or opinion. Depending on the type of network, the functionalities and the type of communication established between users vary. In many of them, users can share images, videos, documents, opinions, and information.
- Maintain or establish contact. The networks allow all the people who have access to the Internet to create a user on the network and connect with others around the planet attached to that social network. They allow you to communicate with friends, family, make new friends, find a partner, establish work, or professional relationships.
- Inform. The large volume of information circulating on social networks allows users to stay informed about important events or topics of interest. Most networks allow you to create a user and customize the type of information displayed on the network.
- Entertain yourself. Social networks create communities of users with similar interests on certain topics. These networks function as a great source of entertainment and relaxation.
- Sell buy. Many social networks have emerged as channels for buying and selling goods or services. On platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, the user can follow businesses, businesses, or independent workers that they like and establish business relationships with them.
- A virtual community forms them: they are massive communities that extend throughout the planet.
- They can be used from computers, tablets, or mobile devices.
- Although many of them offer greater functionality in exchange for a monthly or annual payment, they are free to access.
- They provide information in real-time.
- They allow each user to create a profile within the network.
Social networks have a series of advantages or benefits, which has allowed them to consolidate themselves as one of the undisputed protagonists within the web.
- They are immediate. Social networks work in real-time. The information, videos, images, and opinions shared on the networks are usually made public and can be immediately known by any user of the network almost anywhere on the globe. On some platforms such as Twitter, social, cultural, political, or economic, regional, or world events are instantly known to all their users.
- They are massive. Social networks have broken down cultural and age barriers as they reach a large portion of the population.
- They shorten distances. Social networks allow you to communicate with friends, family, and any user of the network regardless of geographical distance.
- Increase the visibility of brands. In recent years, advertising and the creation of corporate and branding profiles have made social networks a new market. They allow us to connect buyers and sellers from all over the world. They facilitate customer service.
- They function as a channel for learning, entertainment, and information. Social networks work as a means to virtualize certain information. Depending on the content in which the user is interested, they will learn, entertain, or be informed.
- They allow information sharing. Networks allow you to share files instantly and easily: documents, music, photos, videos.
- They provide job opportunities. Some networks make it possible to publicize the work profile of users. Some, like LinkedIn, was created with the specific goal of building communities of professionals. There, companies create profiles from which job opportunities are offered to which interested users can apply.
Social networks have some negative aspects that every user must fight:
- Cyberbullying. It is one of the main risks of social networks and occurs when individuals or groups of individuals harasses or harasses another through social networks. This can occur through insults, virtualization of private information, among other ways. Children must be educated to know the physical and psychological consequences that this type of practice can cause.
- The grooming. It is one of the biggest dangers of cyberbullying. Also called “pedophile deception”, it consists of adult harassment of minors through social networks. Grooming is a criminal offense and must be reported.
- The fake news. It is the false or unchecked information that circulates thanks to the excess of information on the Internet. This can confuse users and hard understanding of events.
- Indiscriminate access to sensitive content. There is content on the networks of a sexual or violent nature, which is often inappropriate, especially for vulnerable social groups such as children.
- Abuse in the use of social networks. Excessive use of social media can lead to loss of contact with the tangible world and lead to addiction.
- The virtualization of information. It is the massive reproduction of information. It can be a positive aspect when the information that is virtualized is to the individual’s liking. Still, it can be negative when confidential information is virtualized, or that harms an individual in some way by losing their privacy.