Social media is an internet-based (Web 2.0) technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities worldwide. Social media gives users quick electronic communication of content. This user-generated content is the lifeblood of social media. Content includes personal information, documents, videos, and photos. Users engage with social media via computer, tablet or smartphone through web-based software or web applications, often utilising it for messaging. Social media can be used to empower people to increase impact and spread knowledge to a large audience. It creates opportunities for open dialogues, in a constructive but sometimes also in a destructive way. It can lead to polarisation and limited exposure to other views.
The business model of many large social media operators is data collection for targeted advertisements. Social media has become one of the backbones of today’s marketing. By means of social media analysis, useful data can be selected for online marketing campaigns. Social media is also used to spread misleading information such as fake news, deep fakes and disinformation. In the past, several governments have used social media for information operations using fake accounts and bots, eventually leading to digital electoral interference in other states. Governments, especially intelligence and law enforcement agencies, also use social media as a surveillance mechanism to monitor citizens’ behaviour and use it in civil and criminal investigations. This method is effective in detecting accidents and crime, finding missing persons, but also in tracking dissidents and persecuted minorities both in democracies as well as in authoritarian regimes. There are privacy concern, issues regarding content ownership, use by extremists and radicalisation of big groups through social media. But also forming of social cohesiveness, functional use for security (for instance community security groups) and collectively solving crimes.
Related keywords: Social media surveillance, disinformation, marketing campaigns, trolls, trend- and weak signal analysis, social media brand monitoring, information operations, surveillance capitalism