The Big Brother

By David Ford

“You didn’t read that on the news, you read that on Facebook,” Eric Cartman said. Cartman is not a published author whose work would be found in the Harvard Journal or New York Times.

The quote originates from the main character of South Park, the long running Comedy Central cartoon.

The particular episode pokes fun at the power social media has; furthermore, the way it changes how someone perceives the truth and fabrication.

Jeffrey Tyus, an associate professor of communication at Youngstown State University, said social media developed over the years, impacting communication in the modern world.

“Prior to using social media, we would write letters, make phone calls, actually physically talk to people,” Tyus said. “With social media, you can now send a quick message to someone in Alabama, or even somewhere outside the country.”

Tyus said messages and information travel more efficiently with social media, but face-to-face communication skills have decreased.

“When your social skills are tied to a computer, it negates effectiveness to communicate. The downfall comes when you find yourself in someone’s face, your ability to communicate will be less effective,” Tyus said.

Despite certain setbacks with social media, the impact it has today is massive, he said.

As social media evolved, businesses saw an opportunity to promote products and sell advertising. In turn, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter capitalized.

Tyus commented on the topic of the relationship with social media and advertising.

“Let’s say you become engaged, and you’re planning your wedding. All of the sudden you start seeing advertisements and receiving messages regarding planning products and services,” Tyus said. “Some people are giddy about it because it eliminates the need to search. In a way, it’s being dropped on their lap.”

Throughout social media, advertisements are everywhere. Once a user accepts terms and conditions, that social media app can access information, tailoring the ads to fit the users’ interests.

Adam Earnheardt, the chair of the communications department at YSU, said most concerns with social media come with people debating back and forth, not necessarily with privacy.

“Some would argue that social media has devolved into an online shouting match, with poor displays of critical thinking skills and reasoning,” Earnheardt said.

Earnheardt said issues with privacy are still prevalent, but aren’t a major factor in whether or not people sign up.

Kati Hartwig, the social media manager for YSU, said most of a person’s information is public anyway.

“Where you go to school, what your interests are, where you work. Sites like these use this to help adjust advertisements based on who you are,” Hartwig said.

Hartwig said some people believe privacy is a major concern for social media users, while for others, it is not. Either way, no social media website is immune from fake ads or threats.

Despite political conflict and privacy issues with social media, a few YSU students believe social media is enjoyable.

Nick Sherock, a YSU student, believes social media is fun and uses it for a variety of reasons, although one reason far outweighs the others.

“In all honesty, it’s because of memes,” Sherock said. “If I get a good idea for a meme, I’d like to get it out there.”

Sherock said social media can be stressful at times, but most of the content is usually humorous.

“The funniest thing is the conspiracy pages, or you end up finding someone who unironically thinks communism is a good idea,” Sherock said. “I’m not just saying there’s a few socialistic ideas. No, this stuff is straight up communism. It boggles your mind.”

According to Sherock, no shady stuff exists on his social media accounts. He compared daytime social media with late night social media, where the “weird” stuff goes down.

“People usually take that shady stuff to [direct messages],” Sherock said.

Typically, Sherock uses social media throughout the day, especially in-between classes. Despite his claim on social media being fun, he said he does remain a little cautious.

“I have to hold myself back every once in a while or else my enemies can use my material against me,” Sherock said.

Jake Brandenstein, a YSU student, nearly mimics Sherock in his social media usage. For Brandenstein, memes are a main source of connecting with others. A lot of users add family on their accounts to connect with them, but for Brandenstein, it is the opposite.

“I actually used it to get away from my family,” Brandenstein said. “The memes are what keep me going.”

For Brandenstein, ads can get in the way during day to day social media use.

“I’d be searching something on Google and an ad will pop up on Facebook and Instagram,” Brandenstein said. “That’s weird. I don’t like that.”

Sherock said when he searches Grand Theft Auto V videos, he’ll see ads for the game. Even though the ads pop up, he said he is not bothered by them.

Dennis Schiraldi, YSU communications professor, commented on the hours one typically spends on social media, especially millennials.

“The average teen spends nine hours a day on social media, while the average person spends only two hours,” Schiraldi said. “Social media has become significant in all facets of day to day life.”

People generally become fatigued by reading the posts of those who live “fake, fantastic lives,” Schiraldi said.

South Park is not the most educational show out there, but it offers insight on the power of social media in society. Social media has changed the way people around the world communicate.