Sunday 1 February 2015

Social media 2012: the good, the bad and the Taylor-made...

'Social media is now part of the fabric of who we are. It is part of all of our lives," said the University of Limerick (UL) this week as it unveiled plans to teach social media on its journalism courses.

The university is simply recognising the reality. For Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest – and the rest – this year was seismic as the media world continued to shift on its axis.

The sheer ebb and flow of opinions, news, vulgar abuse, humour, hope, inspiration, negativity and creativity unleashed through social media in 2012 was almost overwhelming.

This was the year when social media became the news, and cemented its status as the undisputed king of instant public opinion.

Rabid social media user or behind-the-scenes lurker, just think how many times you saw the Twitter hashtags for just some of the biggest stories of the year: #Savita, #Leveson, #Obama2012 #Euro2012 or #Budget2013.

Once upon a time, one waited for an opinion poll to see what people were thinking. Now the wait is over – for good or bad – within seconds of a story breaking on a social media platform.

In Ireland alone, according to, there are 2.3 million Facebook users, signifying its use by 49.9pc of our population. Twitter is a little further behind, but with a still huge 570,000 users here.

By far our most popular tweeter is a 20-year-old boyband singer from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, making him, in terms of social media clout at least, the most influential Irish person on the planet.

Niall Horan of One Direction has so many Twitter followers he's in the world's top 50 'most followed' people and organisations, according to Twitaholic, which tracks the numbers.

An astonishing 8.2 million people hang on Horan's every word, more than follow The New York Times (6.7 million), the TV news network CNN (6.6 million), the Pope (who tweeted for the first time last week) and the Dalai Lama (5.6 million).

Even if Horan's musings include banalities such as 'X-Factor was great tonight' and 'at home watchin TV', millions of people use social media to keep in touch with what he has to say.

An entire generation can now no longer conceive of not having access to a Facebook page or Twitter account, making online connectivity, for some, almost preferable to human contact.

The game changer in #2012 was the surge in smartphone sales and tablets; the devices that allow users to interact like never before with intuitive functionality and integrated social media.

A global report from Citigroup estimated sales of smartphones will be up by 45pc this year and climb further in 2013 as the quality of the technology improves yet again and prices tumble.

Just ask Jason Russell, the maker of an internet film that called for the arrest of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.

In April, he thought that his 30-minute Kony 2012 video would be watched on YouTube by a couple of thousand people.

Just weeks later, Russell had a nervous breakdown after his movie became a social media sensation, racking up nearly 80 million hits.

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