According to conflict theory, social media socialization is a channel which promotes social inequality in the society. Therefore, social networking sites are perceived to disrupt the society instead of promoting smooth operations. Theorists of the conflict theory believe argue that social networking sites are controlled by corporations that seek to fulfil their agendas in the society. Their main goal is not to foster for smooth operations of the community but to promote their social interests (Westbay, Pfaff, & Redding, 2014). For instance, the owners of the social media channels and corporations use social media to promote upper-middle-class lifestyles while neglecting the working class. Also, upper-middle-class society promotes social vices such as racism in the United States because they minimize the presence of people of color in the community.as a result, one can conclude that according to conflict theory, the rich benefit from social networking sites while the working class and the people of color remain disadvantaged by social media influence.
Contrary to the conflict theory, functionalist perspective recognizes a positive influence of social networking sites. According to the functionalists theory, social media provides a platform through which people interact and share ideas which encourage development in the society. Therefore, social media unites different institutions such as law, religion, education, organizations, family institution, the media and economics. (Crossman, 2018) The role of the social media is to keep these institutions in touch and unite them into a platform where they can share development ideas. Therefore, the functionalist theory views social media as an entertainment and a marketing tool. It also facilitates socialization of individuals and fosters teaching of philosophies, morals and norms to future groups (Livesey, 2010). As a result, both the rich and the low-income groups benefit from social media influence. The rich use social media to promote their businesses and share development ideas while the low-income group use it to interact with the Upper-middle-class society and get life skills. Functionalism neglects the negative impact of the social media such as promoting divorce, and racism which is a major source of criticism.
However, the important factors of the functionalist theorists are the latent and manifest functions of the social media influence. The latent functions of the functionalist theory refer to unintended consequences of social media. Such consequences are not recognized by the members of the social institutions. For instance, the latent functions promote solidarity in a social media group in times of hardships. Manifest functions refer to the intended consequences of social media. From the functionalist approach, manifest functions of the social media influence include making profits, promoting a product in the market, and function as a collective memory of a nation in which the media will remind people about planned events and enable them to forget past occurrences. Also, functionalist theory promotes capitalism by making sure that it maintains demand for commodities and services in the market.
According to Robert Merton, social dysfunction is another form of the latent function of the functionalist theory. Merton explains social dysfunction as failures of institutions involved in social media such as educational, legal and political institutions to meet social norm functions (Elwell, 2013).
Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the concept of socialization. The theory traces its origin from the Max Webers argument which states that people behave depending on how they interpret the world (Serpe & Stryker, 2011). Normally people interact with others for varied reasons such as career prospects, to start a relationship, to continue a relationship or to facilitate something else. Social media networking sites influence how people connect and interact with their peers. According to symbolic interaction theory, people impose different meanings on behaviors, occasions or objects. Therefore, people unite depending on they interpret the behavior of their peers. A group of people who share a common symbol about an event may join together to form a social bond (Serpe & Stryker, 2011). For instance, youth understand clearly about the effects of smoking but a group of smokers forms a social bond because they interpret that smoking is cool. Therefore, Symbolic interactionism demonstrates awareness in social media by defending the harmful effects of smoking. In this case, the symbolic meaning of smoking exceeds the fact that smoking is harmful to the health of smokers. On the other hand a group of individuals who symbolize smoking as a risky behavior interact and form a social bond of non-smokers. Social media promotes symbols such as race, smoking and gender biases. Social media users who identify with a certain race may increase their interactions because of the interpretation that they are special than another race. On the other hand, smokers promote the ideology that smoking is cool form strong social bonds through social media platform.
After reviewing the three theories Conflict, Functionalist, and Symbolic interactionist, the best theory which captures the social influence of social media is the Functionalist approach. The functionalist theory indicates that social media platforms unite people from all levels of the economy and engages them in a conversation about development issues. The rich and the working class share ideas and benefit equally from the use of social media.
Crossman, A. (2018, January 12). Understanding Functionalist Theory.
Elwell, F. (2013). Merton on Structural Functionalism. Retrieved from http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Essays/Merton1.htm
Livesey, C. (2010). Functionalist Theories. Retrieved from Sociology.org: http://www.sociology.org.uk/notes/A2_Deviance_functionalism.pdf
Serpe, R., & Stryker, S. (2011). The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective and Identity Theory. Handbook of Identity, Theory and Research, 225-248.
Westbay, J., Pfaff, D., & Redding, N. (2014, April). Psychology and Social Networks: A Dynamic Network Theory Perspective. Retrieved from American Psychological Association.
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