The evolution of social media

by Carmen Visser

Disclaimer: If you're looking for information on how ‘antisocial’ technology has made people, or how the ultra-violet rays from screens are causing cancer, or even how the current generation 'do not understand' real love or friendship, you will not find any of that here.

Image by Merakist on Unsplash

The History

A common thought is that Facebook was the first form of social media. This is both true and untrue at the same time. It depends on what you consider ‘social media’.

The very first telegraph sent from Washington DC to Baltimore in 1844 could be the first example of social media. However, Oxford Leaners’ Dictionary defines social media as "websites and software programs used for social networking".

Based on this, the first social media was created by Andrew Weinrich and lasted from 1997 to 2001. SixDegrees and other sites such as LiveJournal and Friendster only lasted a few years and did not trend globally.

Facebook, which started as a way for connecting students on the Harvard University campus, has nearly 2.5 billion users. From this, we can denote that Facebook is the most popular social media platform. YouTube and WhatsApp follow with 2 billion users each.

Each social media platform created has one main focus for their users. For example, YouTube focusses on videos, Twitter focuses on written updates, Tumblr focusses on blogs and Instagram focusses on images. While these focusses are mostly what people use to post their creations, most platforms do allow users to post in whichever format they prefer.

The rise of social media has created a whole new dictionary. Words such as likes, pokes, tweets, subscriptions and snaps have been given new meanings. They can also be used in almost any conversation and be understood.

Timeline designed by Social Media Solution (Note: Google+ was officially shut down in April 2019)


Instead of waiting weeks to communicate with someone using hand-written letters, we now wait seconds for replies on social media. We have also expanded our communication formats from just written text to images, voice notes, videos, stickers and GIFs.

This evolution has made communication nearly immediate. It has also introduced a whole new etiquette amongst people. For example, people often ‘hype up’ their friends’ latest post with likes, comments and shares. Another example is when uploading a group photo, it is almost propriety to ‘tag’ everyone featured in the photo. These protocols are unspoken rules that users usually figure out naturally.

Although becoming obsessed with social media is unhealthy (especially for your mind and self-esteem), it is a great way to keep in contact with those near and far. We often beat ourselves down about the amount of time we spend on social media – “my screen time says I spent over 10 hours on WhatsApp the past 7 days”. Yes, 10 hours is a long time, but it is likely 10 hours of combined communication. You have been talking to friends, family members and possibly even contributing to your school or work group chat. Try to be kinder to yourself about your habits.

Social media is also known for its’ helpful ways to promote a business. With useful features such as hashtags, website links and polls, businesses are finding thousands of new customers through their social media pages. This has encouraged businesses to hire and train certain employees just to manage their social media presence.

Image by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash


A few things to keep in the back of your mind as you spend time on social media:

· Once it is posted, it will never be deleted. Be careful with sensitive photos and videos.

· Cyber-bullying is unnecessary, harmful and unforgotten. Keep those comments to yourself.

· Concentrate on making your profile about what you want to see, not what you think will be popular.

· The amount of likes you get on a post is not indicative of who you are as a person.

· Finally, the reminder that I consider most important. Follow pages and people that are good for your mind. While it is interesting to follow the world’s top models, it also gives you unrealistic body expectations and can destroy your self-confidence.

Think about what makes you happy in life and find pages on social media that provide that for you. Social media has become an integral part of our lives and can have limitless positive effects on our lives and livelihoods.

Here are a few of my favourite types of pages (based on my interests): Writing tips, meme pages, house décor magazines, poets, sky-based photography and all things pet related.

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