InFocus: #everything

UB students discuss social media and its effects on day-to-day life and culture

On March 30, 2014

  • The Honors College held the sixth InFocus event for students to discuss what social media means to society. Michael Stefanone, a communication professor, moderated the discussion and gave insights and questions. Andy Koniuch, The Spectrum

If Facebook were a country, it would be the second most populated one. Every second, 9,100 tweets are sent - which is 1 billion tweets in fewer than five days. Every minute, 65 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube.

Social media has become an increasingly engrained part of society. And Friday afternoon, the Honors College hosted the sixth installment of the InFocus series on the trend.

Students questioned the importance of social media, specifically delving into Facebook and other platforms, as well as the state of media in the news.

Dr. Michael Stefanone, an associate professor for the Communication department, moderated the discussion.

"We have the same needs and desires and motivations that we had a thousand years ago," Stefanone said.

He said attention has always been one of these desires, and we have just transitioned to using Facebook as a platform to compete for each other's attention.

He posed a question to the room to start off the discussion: Are we better off with social media in our lives?

Joao Eng, a sophomore economics major, believes social media has been a positive addition to our world both to individuals and to our society.

It gives individuals the opportunity to maintain contact with people they haven't seen in a long time, and it gives groups in society the ability to organize easily and effectively, he said.

Robert Rondinaro, a junior biomedical science major, agreed with his point. He said technology has given people throughout history more access to the masses and through this, triggered huge changes in society.

The students also discussed the transitions of relationships between people due to the presence of social media.

"Our transition into social media has just been putting what we've been doing for years and making it tangible," said Kelsey Gage, a sophomore communication and theater major.

There has always been a "social contract" between people who would be considered acquaintances, according to Gage. If someone knows another person who may be able to help them and has been in a social setting enough with them, there is an agreement that they may be able to offer help.

Stefanone referenced Dunbar, who said a person could only have 150 meaningful relationships throughout their lives.

Facebook now provides this categorization of friends, but research has shown that people still only engage with 10 people on average each day, Stefanone said.

Phil Tucciarone, a senior chemical engineering major, views social media as a "library."

"I have these 10 to 12 people who I talk to and have these very tight bonds with," Tucciarone said. "But then I have these friends or networks that I can recall on - go to the library and open on up."

Rondinaro thinks some people use the large amount of friends on Facebook as a status symbol, and it is easy to add people we don't know well because it is "low cost."

The group also discussed Facebook buying the smartphone application WhatsApp - a free international text and voice messaging app - for $19 billion.

With Facebook knowing a plethora of information about users, it has the ability to tailor its homepage to the interests of users and friends, Stefanone said. He believes besides access to the users, WhatsApp gives Facebook access to an even more personal part of technology - users' phone numbers. 

"That is a valid, detailed representation of who I am, of what my social network is," Stefanone said.

Gage believes WhatsApp could evolve into something completely different than it is now.

"Twitter used to just be 'tweet about your lunch' and now it's a political platform where riots and revolutions are starting," Gage said.

Along with this, Stefanone thinks Facebook is turning into the next news source by people posting links of what matters to them specifically, and in turn, also suggesting links to the user.

The room agreed that social media has also had a huge effect on journalism.

"Sometimes anyone being a journalist gets mistaken for journalism," Tucciarone said. "It's one of the dangers of the mass communication of the Internet - questioning credibility."

Gage believes this is also bringing the "rise of the whistleblower."

"The everyday person doesn't care what this person higher up thinks of them," Gage said. "So if they have information that can bring them down, it just takes the push of a button and it can go viral ... It's like news sources are almost scared of it."

Whether it is for socializing or news sources, most of the students all believed social media is what you make of it.



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