Understanding Social Media

Extensions of Their Users

by Robert K. Logan (Author) Mira Rawady (Author)
©2021 Monographs XX, 212 Pages
Series: Understanding Media Ecology, Volume 12


The purpose of this book is to understand the nature of social media and the impact they are having on almost all aspects of modern-day existence from family life and social interactions to education and commerce. Just as fish are unaware of the water they swim in and we humans are unaware of the air that we breathe so it is that the users of social media are unaware of the effects of these media and take their existence as a natural part of their environment. The authors make use of Marshall McLuhan’s media ecology approach to understanding media in order to reveal the effects of social media on their users, how they are changing the nature of our social interactions and how we through our interaction with social media have become actual extensions of our social media, the reverse of McLuhan’s notion that media are extensions of mankind.
The authors analyze the major social media apps including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tinder, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and blogs as well as examining the Splinternet and the social media scene in Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam and the Islamic world. Understanding Social Media studies the impacts of social media monopolies, the nature of advertising and branding in social media apps and the social media front in cyberwarfare and concludes with an analysis of the social media counter revolution waged by players who actually helped to create social media.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I: The Media That Made Social Media Possible
  • Chapter One: Introducing the Seven Ages of Communication
  • Chapter Two: The Impacts of Digital Computing
  • Chapter Three: The Impacts of the Internet and the World Wide Web: The Online Age
  • Chapter Four: Impacts of the Smartphone and Their Apps
  • Chapter Five: Online Communication Channels: E-mail, IM, Texting, VoIP, and Online Meeting Apps
  • Part II: The Social Media Revolution
  • Chapter Six: The Impacts of Social Media
  • Chapter Seven: Facebook, LinkedIn and Similar Social Media Sites
  • Chapter Eight: Instagram
  • Chapter Nine: Snapchat
  • Chapter Ten: Reddit
  • Chapter Eleven: Tinder and Other Dating Apps
  • Chapter Twelve: Blogs, the Blogosphere and Blogging Platforms
  • Chapter Thirteen: YouTube
  • Chapter Fourteen: TikTok: The New Wave of Content
  • Chapter Fifteen: Twitter
  • Chapter Sixteen: Pre-digital Age Monopolies
  • Part III: Social Media and Monopolies
  • Chapter Seventeen: The Rise of Mega Monopolies in the Digital Age
  • Chapter Eighteen: Digital Age Monopolies and Social Media
  • Chapter Nineteen: Social Media, Branding and Advertising
  • Part IV: The Splinternet, Cyber Warfare and the Social Media Counter Revolution
  • Chapter Twenty: The Splinternet and Social Media Censorship in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Russia, and the Islamic World
  • Chapter Twenty-One: World War III: Cyber Warfare and Social Media Threats to Democracy
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: The Social Media Counter Revolution
  • Appendix Social Media Apps
  • Series index

Preface: What Is/Are Social Media?—The Scope of Understanding Social Media

The Purpose of This Book

The purpose of this book is to understand the nature of social media and the impact they are having on almost all aspects of modern-day existence from family life and social interactions to education and commerce. Just as fish are unaware of the water they swim in and we humans are unaware of the air that we breathe so it is that the users of social media are unaware of the effects of these media and take their existence as a natural part of their environment. It is our intention to reveal the effects of social media on their users, how they are changing the nature of our social interactions and how we through our interaction with social media have become actual extensions of our social media, the reverse of McLuhan’s notion that media are extensions of mankind.

Who is this Book Intended For?

For the generations of today’s parents and grandparents this book will be a guide to the media that are changing the way our kids are growing up so differently from what we experienced when we were kids. Of course, every generation is confronted with a new set of circumstances but the changes for the last two generations with ←NaN | x→digital media, especially the last one with social media, has never been greater. For young folks this book will also be important as it will provide them with a guide to how social media are controlling their lives contrary to their belief that they are in control of how they use social media. A lesson from Marshall McLuhan and his famous one-liner, ‘the medium is the message’, is that the greatest impact from a medium is not its content but the way it changes the way we live and the impacts it has on all aspects of our lives. Another lesson from McLuhan is that the effects of media are subliminal because we focus on their content rather than how they create a new environment in which we operate. We hope our study will allow the users of social media to see the impacts of their involvement with social media of which they are unaware.

What is the Scope of Our Study: What Exactly Are Social Media?

When we were beginning our study of social media we debated whether VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps like Zoom or Skype should be classified as social media. VoIP is nothing more than multi-media telephony using IP instead of the public switching telephone network. Therefore, it follows that if VoIP is social media or a social medium then the telephone is a social medium and hence a form of social media. This raises all kinds of interesting questions. What is (or are) social media anyway? If talking on the telephone is social media then isn’t talking face to face also a form of social media. Isn’t that also the case for any of the following forms of social media by that definition: the family, schools, clans, tribes, cities, nations, social societies, clubs, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, armed forces, businesses, governments, organizations, friendships, dating, postal system correspondences, publications of all kinds, radio and TV shows, games, sports, card games, gambling and society in general. In short any and all interactions of humans are transmitted through some form of social media.

Then we thought what about the interactions of animals that interact in families, herds, flocks, schools (of fish), colonies (of insects) and even the interactions of plants, fungi and bacteria because all living organisms communicate with each other and hence their interactions are social. Where do we draw the line? What is the definition of social media, anyway? Well, first we drew the line with humans and do not consider the social media of non-human organisms, although the idea of considering the social media of non-human living organisms would an interesting topic for biologists. Are the colorful plumages of birds a display serving the ←NaN | xi→same purpose as Facebook or maybe Tinder as the peacock’s tail feathers facilitates hookups? Are animal cries like email or perhaps Zoom not VoIP but VoSW (voice over sound waves)? Birds definitely tweet. All interesting questions, but we will confine ourselves to human social media.

Next, we could have included in our study of social media all of the human forms of social media that do not involve computers and the Internet as we listed above. Once again, we had to draw the line to exclude the non-digital media and forms of social interaction which are interesting topics, but best addressed by sociologists. We therefore confine ourselves to an analysis of digital-based social media and make use of a media ecology perspective to understand how they have changed the nature of human interactions both digitally and non-digitally especially our face-to-face interactions.

Another issue we need to consider is whether the term ‘social media’ is singular or plural. Is Facebook a social medium or social media? The same goes for all the social media that we will discuss such as Tinder, email, VoIP, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube. As to whether or not the term ‘social media’ is singular or plural we have taken the position that it just depends on the context. In the title of our book Understanding Social Media the term is definitely plural as is the case with the first definition of social media below. In the next three definitions, however, it is singular since the definitions contain the expression ‘social media’ is denoting social media is singular. All four definitions make it clear, however, that the term ‘social media’ is confined to those media that are Internet and computer based.

Definition of social media: forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content [such as videos]

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20media accessed March 3, 2019).

Social media is the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social book marking, social curation and wikis are among the different types of social media (https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/social-media accessed March 3, 2019).

Social media is computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities. By design, social media is internet-based and gives users quick electronic communication of content. Content includes personal information, documents, videos, and photos. Users engage with social media via computer, ←NaN | xii→tablet or smartphone via web-based software or web application, often utilizing it for messaging (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-media.asp accessed March 3, 2019).

Social media is defined as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media_as_a_public_utility accessed March 3, 2019)

What is Our Methodology and the Historic Background of this Study?: McLuhan’s Approach to Media Studies

Given that we will be using a McLuhanesque/media ecology perspective to study social media and their impacts we thought it wise to provide a summary of McLuhan’s approach to the study of media and their effects for those not familiar with his work. For a more complete discussion of McLuhan’s approach to understanding media the reader is referred to the following books of Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan 1962) and Understanding Media (McLuhan 1964). Additional insights into McLuhan’s approach to the study of media and the application of McLuhan’s methodology to the digital media he never encountered can be found in the following books of Bob Logan: McLuhan Misunderstood (Logan 2013); Understanding New Media (Logan 2013); and McLuhan in Reverse (Logan in press).

For the convenience of the readers not that familiar with McLuhan’s here is a summary of his approach to media ecology that comes from Chapter Two of Logan’s recent book McLuhan in Reverse (ibid.) Logan describes the 10 elements of McLuhan’s approach to studying media as follows:

1.Probes: McLuhan made use of probes to explore the effects of media. He was more interested in making discoveries than in always being correct. Some of his probes did not pan out exactly as planned but on the whole the many predictions he made for the effects of electric media turned out to describe the media of the digital age which he never had a chance to experience as he died in 1980 long before the Internet, the Web and smartphones had arrived.

2.←NaN | xiii→Figure/ground: the key element in McLuhan’s general theory of media. Figure/ground analysis is based on the idea that one cannot understand an object of study in isolation from the system or environment in which it operates. Almost all media analysis that were made before McLuhan focused on the content of media rather than the effects of the media independent of their content. McLuhan reversed the focus from studying the content of media to studying the effects of the media independent of their content. This led to his famous aphorism “the medium is the message.”

3.The medium is the message: this one-liner is the key element in McLuhan’s understanding of media. It incorporates this reversal of attention from figure to ground. The content is the figure and the medium is the ground or environment. “The medium is the message” incorporates the notion that one needs to focus on the effects of a medium independent of its content to understand what its message is.

4.The subliminal nature of ground or environment revealed only by the creation of an anti-environment. Because most people focus on the content of a medium and not its effects independent of its content the ground in which a medium operates is subliminal. It therefore takes an artist or a scientist to be able to create what McLuhan calls an anti-environment to be able to see the subliminal effects of the ground in which a medium operates.

5.The reversal of cause and effect among other reversals: McLuhan’s approach to understanding the effects of media involves a number of reversals such as his focus on ground rather than figure. Another reversal is his focus on effects rather than causes and their reversal such as his observation that the effect of the telegraph was the cause of the telephone. Other reversals include his focus on the medium rather than its content; on percepts rather than concepts [see (6)]; and his notion that when a medium is pushed far enough it flips into its opposite which we will discuss below in (10) when we describe his Laws of Media.


XX, 212
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XX, 212 pp., 1 b/w ill., 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Robert K. Logan (Author) Mira Rawady (Author)

Robert K. Logan (PhD, MIT, 1965) is an emeritus professor of physics, fellow of St. Michael’s College, and member of the School of Environmental Studies, all at the University of Toronto and he is also Chief Scientist of the sLab (OCAD University). Mira Rawady (BA, University of Toronto, 2019) is a social media consultant at Student Price Card in Toronto.


Title: Understanding Social Media
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