Last updated on: 4/13/2023 | Author:

History of Social Media

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Around seven out of ten Americans (69%) use social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, up from 26% in 2008. On social media sites, users may develop biographical profiles, communicate with friends and strangers, do research, and share thoughts, photos, music, links, and more. [26] [189] & Forward, which existed from 1997-2001, is considered the first social media site because it allowed users to create personal spaces and connect to friends online. Friendster, created in 2002, popularized social media in the United States but was quickly outpaced by other social media such as MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), Pinterest (2009), and Google+ (2012).

Facebook reached one billion monthly users worldwide on October 4, 2012, making it the most popular social media platform with one in seven people on the planet as members. 71% of online adults in the United States used Facebook, causing the tech company to manage 4.5 billion “Likes,” 4.75 billion content shares, and over 300 million photo uploads. As of Sep. 2014, 51% of US adults used YouTube, 28% used Pinterest, 28% LinkedIn, 26% Instagram, and 23% Twitter. Twitter had 288 million monthly active users and over 500 million tweets are sent daily. Among online adults, use of more than one social media platform increased from 42% in 2013 to 52% in 2014. [26] [142] [174] [175] [176] [177] [178]

Early User and Advertiser Demographics

As the sites became increasingly popular, the user base expanded from teenagers and young adults to include more people over the age of 50. Although Facebook began in 2004 as a site for college students with log-ins restricted to those with .edu e-mail addresses, in Sep. 2006 it opened registration to everyone and as of Jan. 15, 2014, 23.3% of users were 18-24 years old, 24.4% were 25-34 years old, 31.1% were 35-54, and 15.6% were 55 and older. As of Feb. 2014, nearly two-thirds of social media users accessed sites from their computers once a day and nearly half of smartphone owners visited a social media platform every day. Two in five Americans had used social media at work, while one in five admitted to having logged into social media while in the bathroom. [26] [147] [179] [180] [181]

Social media’s largest source of revenue is advertising. Social media ad revenue was expected to reach $8.8 billion in 2012, an increase of 43% from 2011. Gaming also accounted for a large portion of social media revenue, with an expected $6.2 billion in 2012. Predictions place overall social media revenue at about $34 billion by 2016, an increase from $11.8 billion in 2011 and the projected $16.9 billion in 2012. [149] [150]

Social Media & Politics

Social media has played a large role in shaping the political landscape. More than a quarter of US voters younger than 30 (including 37% of those 18-24 years old) reported that they obtained information about the 2008 presidential campaign from social media. On Nov. 3, 2008, the day before the US presidential election, Democratic candidate Barack Obama had 2,379,102 Facebook supporters, 38% more than Republican candidate John McCain who had 620,359 supporters. [151] [152]

Source: © Iakov Filimonov—Jackf/

On June 12, 2009, the White House announced, via the White House Blog, that it was joining Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr in order to “create… unprecedented opportunity to connect you to your government in order to obtain information and services and to participate in policymaking.” [153]

Joining the social media sites was part of the administration’s efforts to meet President Obama’s call to “reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative.” On Sep. 16, 2009, The Washington Times broke a story that the White House had begun collecting and storing comments and videos posted on social media, bringing invasion of privacy criticism. Defenders stated that the White House was simply complying with the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of all presidential records. [154] [155]

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo dubbed the 2012 election the “Twitter election.” All of the main 2012 presidential candidates had Facebook and Twitter accounts. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney maintained MySpace accounts, and Obama also has a Pinterest account. The 2012 presidential election set the record at the time for most-tweeted event with more than 327,000 tweets per minute being sent when Barack Obama was announced the winner. The image of him and his wife that Obama posted upon his reelection with “Four more years” became the most re-tweeted tweet with over 816,883 re-tweets as of Nov. 19, 2012 (breaking Justin Beiber’s record of over 200,000 re-tweets). [156] [158][159]

The protests in Tunisia, which spawned the Arab Spring, were fueled and organized by social media as were protests in Egypt and Iran. The governments of those countries censored and attempted to shut down the social media sites. In response to the censorship, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, said, “The United States believes passionately and strongly in the basic principle of free expression… And it is the case that one of the means of expression, the use of Twitter is a very important one, not only to the Iranian people but now increasingly to people around the world, and most particularly to young people.” [160] [161] [162]

Social media site growth has sometimes outpaced the development of rules, laws, and etiquette regarding their use. For example, in Feb. 2009 Congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) tweeted his whereabouts as he traversed war zones in Iraq, which gave rise to security concerns about the use of social media to post real-time locations. [163]

Source: pixelfit—E+/Getty Images

An Aug. 23, 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found that the same Russian trolls, bots, and content polluters that influenced the 2016 US presidential election used Twitter to stoke both sides of the vaccines debate to promote “political discord” during the election. The study, “Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate,” examined almost 1.8 million tweets about vaccines and found that, while some came from malware or spam accounts, more were sent from identified Russian troll accounts, including many from the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked propaganda group. [289]

President Donald Trump, a frequent Twitter user who started his account in Mar. 2009, set a presidential record for most tweets and retweets in a single day with 142 posts on Twitter on Jan. 22, 2020. [289]

Social media continued to play a role in the 2020 presidential election as a major method of communication for and about the candidates. Donald Trump’s social media interactions dominated his rivals: in Oct. 2019, he had 181 million interactions (defined as likes, comments, and shares), compared to a combined 58 million for all 17 Democrats in the race. [292]

Social Media & the Law

Illinois passed a law in Aug. 2009 banning registered sex offenders from using social media. However, a Dec. 31, 2008 Internet Safety Technical Task Force report presented to the US State Attorneys General found that adults lying about their ages to initiate relationships with minors are a rare occurrence; 43% of online sexual predators were identified as minors, 30% were adults between the ages of 18 and 21, and 9% were adults over the age of 21. [165] [166]

On May 2, 2012, Maryland became the first state to pass a law prohibiting employers from asking current or prospective employees for their user names or passwords for social media. Governor Jerry Brown of California announced via Twitter on Sep. 27, 2012 that he signed two bills into law to prohibit employers and universities from demanding passwords. Other states have followed suit and have passed social media protection laws or have laws pending. [167] [168] [169][170][171]

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to appear before a panel of Senate committees in Apr. 2018 to address how the social media company mishandled user data, which were used by a consulting firm to create targeted political advertisements during the 2016 presidential election. He stated in prepared testimony, “We were too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we’re working hard to get better… We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.” Lawmakers indicated that they might enact privacy rules and regulations in the wake of the recent scandals. [284][285]

On May 26, 2020, Twitter labeled two of President Donald Trump’s tweets with “! Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” In response to the labels, Trump issued an executive order on May 28, 2020 that requires federal agencies to review social media companies’ conduct and potential biases, and bans federal agencies from advertising on platforms with alleged violations. [293] [294] [295] [296]

Social Media during COVID-19 and Beyond

During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in 2020, Americans consumed about 53 minutes of news per day, according Flixed, a site that provides “cord cutting” tools for people looking to ditch their cable boxes. That was an increase of 22 minutes. Facebook was the primary social media platform source for coronavirus news (35.8% of people surveyed), followed by Twitter (17.0%) and YouTube (16.3%). People who turned to Reddit as their primary social media news source about the pandemic were most likely to report a decline in their mental health (57.6%), followed by Twitter (43%), then Facebook (41.6%). [291]

Source: © Mayur Kakade—Moment/Getty Images

A May 2021 NBC News poll found 64% of Americans believed social media “does more harm than good,” while 27% believed the platforms united Americans. [298]

Social media use only continues to increase as more platforms debut. In 2022, a Common Sense Media report found 84% of teens used social media, with only 34% reporting that they enjoy social media “a lot.” Social media use was also increasing among tweens, a group that is ostensibly barred from using the platforms. [299]

Minimum Age Laws

On Mar. 23, 2023 Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill that will require anyone under 18 to acquire parental consent to join social media platforms in Utah as of Mar. 1, 2024. S.B. 152 Social Media Regulation Amendments will also require social media companies to implement curfews for minors, blocking anyone under 18 from using the platforms between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The law also requires social media platforms to remove all ads from the accounts of minors and allow parents access to the accounts. Utah’s law will serve as something of a guinea pig as social media platforms figure out how to implement the changes and the government figures out how to enforce the law. Similar laws were under consideration in Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas. [330] [331]

On Apr. 12, 2023 Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee signed the Social Media Safety Act, which will take effect in Sep. 2023. The law requires social media platforms to verify the ages of all new users and have minor users obtain parental consent before creating an account. [332]


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