Social media refers to online activity where people interact with each other by sharing photos, videos, blog posts, articles, and other user-generated content (UGC). People may share social media content with their friends on a social network like Facebook or with a broader audience of subscribers on a large social media platform like Youtube, Instagram, or TikTok.
Each social media platform works differently, but most share some common traits. First, a person creates an account on the platform's website or app. They're encouraged to build a social network of friends and followed profiles on the platform to curate the feed of content they see whenever they visit the site or open the app.
The social media content feed on most platforms is generated by an algorithm, with some platforms allowing you to switch between an algorithmic feed and a purely-chronological one. These feeds combine content from friends, followed accounts, and content they may like based on their interests and social media activity. They can curate their feed further by liking content that appeals to them; some platforms also allow users to dislike content to see less of certain things.
Everyone should be mindful of their privacy settings when sharing on social media. Sharing an image or text post will initially only reach your friends and followers, but if a post receives enough engagement — an industry term for interactions including likes, comments, and people sharing it to their timeline — it may spread to other people by appearing in their algorithmic feeds. Known as "going viral," this can lead to the person posting the content gaining lots of followers, but they may also receive a lot of unwanted attention. Some social media platforms allow a person to limit what they share to only friends or followers to keep some control over the spread of their posts.