Between 2000 and 2009, the number of people on the Internet worldwide rose by nearly 1.5 billion users—and the number continues to rise. Offering the ability to spread campaigns and ideas and to allow words to be documented and retrieved years later, the idea of websites allowing a person to share anything with the whole world is both inspiring and alarming. “I do talk to people on Facebook, and the Internet really helps me with schoolwork and keeping up to date with current events,” says KK Narita ’16, “but I don’t feel comfortable putting personal information out there or having personal conversations because of how easy it is to screenshot and forward things on social media.”
Social media and the Internet have opened the door to new methods of political campaigning, for one thing. Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, was one of the first to attempt this angle. While Dean’s campaign failed, his strategy stuck. He was able to gather support and fundraising through the Internet, enabling him to target mass groups of small donors. Dean discovered that this was more cost efficient than contacting fewer but potentially larger donors. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama would use the same tactic to target large audiences and was successful in both his presidential campaigns.
Andrew Schmitt, vice president of Strategic Communications at Salesforce.com told the Paper Tiger, “It’s the need to empower your people, whether they’re your employees, your customers, or your partners. You need to help them to spread your message.” Schmitt added, “Everyone is important these days, whether you’re a physical reporter with a publication, or you are a blogger, a customer with a blog, or you are an analyst—there’s a whole group of people who are important.”
Another person who used the internet as a means to an end is Molly Katchpole. Because of her use of mass communication through the internet, the 22-year-old college graduate was in the running to be one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. In March 2012, Katchpole used a Change.org petition to protest Bank of America’s choice to make a $5 monthly debit card fee. After 300,000 signatures, Bank of America retracted their decision.
Social media and the Internet are also freeing, as they offer endless opportunities to communicate ideas and share words. 50% of the world’s Internet users are also Facebook users. In May 2012, Facebook had 901 million users, 95% of which now log onto their accounts every day. The most popular social media website on the Internet, Facebook, acts as both a tool for change and a space for words to be said that are retrieved and regretted months and years later. In a recent Florida cyberbullying case, two girls, aged 12 and 14, bullied 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick until she committed suicide. While their defense lawyers argued that the two girls were not at fault for what happened, the police were able to retrieve messages and posts from each girl’s Facebook accounts that practically admitted guilt. The 14-year-old wrote in a public post on the site: “Yes I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself, but I don’t [care].”
With the knowledge that nothing can truly be deleted from the internet, people have begun to search for an impermanent way of sharing pictures. Snapchat, a social app that allows one to send pictures and text that last up to 10 seconds, seemed to be the answer to this plea. However, even the promise of a temporary photo has been broken, as Snapchat has led to further apps in the iTunes store promoting a “hack” that challenges the ten-second life span of the pictures. Two newly released apps, SnapHack Pro and Snap Save for Snapchat, promote themselves in their descriptions: “Save your snapchats to your camera roll without the sender knowing and view them as many times as you like for as long as you like! No more 5 second glimpses.” Snap Save “lets you save all your photos and videos from Snapchat so that you can keep them forever,” as stated proudly in the description of the app. The Snapchat company stores each unopened “snap” on their servers. Co-creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy have admitted to handing over pictures from Snapchat to investigators with a search warrant. A San Francisco teen, who wishes to remain anonymous, warns, “There are so many times when you can write something you’ll regret, but once you click send or respond, it’s out there and you can’t change it.”
The Internet can be incriminating and freeing, and not many have fully realized this. “Every day, whether it’s through Snapchat or Facebook, it seems there are new ways for folks to be posting and sharing photos,” says Schmitt. “People are really figuring it all out as they go.”