Sitting on your sofa in front of the television, an advertisement appears. As it comes to a close, the company kindly urges you to “Like” them on Facebook. Social media has become an expanding phenomenon in America. Whether you are reading a newspaper, watching the ticker at the bottom of news broadcast, or browsing the web, companies, sports team celebrities, and everyday people want you to “follow” them on Twitter. Since the surge of MySpace and Facebook, new forms of social networking have risen over the last few years, among them Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. It was evident that, in 2011, these websites were instrumental in shaping the year’s major events. The uprisings in the Middle East were largely brought to the forefront through videos on YouTube and Facebook. Actor Charlie Sheen created a commotion on Twitter after he left his show, “Two and a Half Men.” As we head into 2012, it is remarkable to reflect on social networking’s effect on the world in 2011 and wonder what it has in store for the upcoming year. In a world where we’ve increasingly become separated from others due to busy lives and bound to technological interfaces, we can use the latter to channel that individual isolation into a growing, viable community.
 In America, as a current college student, and a person who has grown up alongside the development of social media, I have seen its effects on American society. Different groups use social networking for different means in reaching different goals. The young and old use it differently; corporations employ it in a separate manner than does the news media; politicians operate it to serve their interests, while celebrities provide anticipated updates on their lives. Although there are these different applications of social networking, it is clear that in America, these website have created a prospering and sustainable online community that succeeds in bringing people together in the vast, previously isolationist internet.
The news media has always played an influential role in America’s society. With social networking, news outlets, such as newspapers, magazines and television broadcasters, have been able to expand their reach. They increasingly rely on news stories coming from accounts of people at the site of an event. American news agencies gauge public opinion and popularity of news topics by analyzing social networking sites. For example, after a delay in the results of Republican presidential nomination Iowa caucus, CNN sought to call two ladies that played a role in tallying the votes. After a comical exchange, the two women instantaneously became “trending topics” worldwide on Twitter. A mere 10-minute conversation shot them to international fame with the help of social networking.
Millions of followers
Companies have also hopped on the social networking bandwagon to reap the benefits from the phenomenon in America. It has been a fundamental platform for marketing. New startups advertise on Facebook reaching millions of people, while large enterprises create “pages” to keep fans of their products up to date. Even schools and universities use social media, especially Twitter, to keep followers updated on campus news and athletic scores.
    As America’s elections approaches, candidates for presidency, especially those vying for the Republican nomination, have taken to social media to reach out to voters. It has become increasingly apparent that the contenders are tweeting messages urging citizens to go out and vote, uploading ads attacking their competitors on YouTube and displaying banners on Facebook championing their experience and policies. Social networking has propelled the American political and electoral system into a new sphere that, they hope, will engage the youth.
    With the introduction of Twitter, celebrities have started to make their lives very public. In fact, in 2011, the subject with the greatest amount of hashtags (topics that people tag using a famous # mark) on Twitter was Justin Bieber. In an attempt to build a buzz, whether to advance their careers or inform their fans, celebrities cultivate pages on these sites. They seem to be very effective as they accumulate millions of followers.
    But, what about the regular, average people? With smartphones nowadays, Americans have access to the social aspects of the World Wide Web no matter where they go. For the older generation, social networking has greatly assisted them with finding and reconnecting with old friends. In some cases, such as LinkedIn, it has helped colleagues and friends find jobs. The greatest phenomenon lies with the generation that grew alongside social media. The youth in America is using social networking to its full potential. This amazing online community has brought together people in an unparalleled way. It gets them in contact with friends and family, allowing them to update those who matter in their lives with a simple click of a button. They “like” pages on Facebook, which gets them in contact with people who share the same interests. They rally around issues; as the devastating earthquake hit Japan, Americans took to Twitter to raise awareness for the cause, as the hashtag #japan became a trending topic.
Share ideas and views…
Unfortunately, I have not seen the same in Mauritian contacts on Facebook. Their “wall” is plagued with applications showing their new high scores or ungrounded predictions about their futures. While they are obviously at liberty to play games and partake in these activities, I urge my readers to expand their use of social networking to spread and share ideas, views and important moments of your life that you are comfortable sharing with your friends. Social networking sites are not merely platforms to hang out with friends and play games, but rather they enable us to make and connect with contacts, maintain relationships, and share interests about issues that matter in society. Sure, you are at liberty to tag friends on photos that describe each other’s personalities or aren’t actually people you know or have ever met; But, take a moment and step back to fully realize the impact of social networking and the education it can provide. The influential role it played in shaping events in 2011 and the platform it creates in the United States is remarkable and can show how an effective use of these websites can lead to fantastic advances in society.
But a warning, I have realized that in America, some people are too involved in social media. They box themselves in the virtual world and remain isolated from true, pure human interaction. While hanging out with friends, it is a common situation where each person is on their phone checking to see if they have notifications on Facebook or mentions on Twitter. Remain mindful that there is a whole real world out there, just as fascinating as the virtual world of social network websites. Furthermore, be mindful that what you post online is there forever. Even if you delete it, it will remain in databases forever, and can haunt you. Be mindful that future employers might consult your Facebook; privacy settings are a useful tool and can be helpful in filtering in what others can see about your private life.
As the world enters 2012, social networking will surely play a significant role in shaping politics, sports, world events and society as a whole. May the New Year greet you with wellness and prosperity!