Social media is often held up as an example of the increasingly vacuous and self-obsessed nature of society, but new research at the University of Cambridge into these new networks show that they can encourage new forms of creativity.
Despite its prevalence and increasing political influence, social media continues to polarise opinions, a university release said.
Many people still find it baffling as to why so many others choose to regurgitate intimate details of their lives online for an army of strangers, and why those strangers are so keen to consume, it added.
This desire to share personal content with global networks was the central premise that sociology researcher Zack McCune set out to explore, spending four months examining user behaviour in social media's latest trends: networks that communicate in mobile photography.
Rather than the banal vanity often presumed by social media's detractors to clog up these channels, McCune found that users encourage each other to pursue increasingly artistic visuals, experimenting with colour and composition, and often carefully crafting the content they post.
McCune he settled on a new, mobile app-based network called instagram, which operates in a similar way to Twitter, with followers and trending topics, only using photos as the primary method of communication.
He says: "The static, visual aspect of photos was important in defining value as it binds the subject area.
What inspired the capture of a moment and what was so personally rewarding in sharing it."
This introduced the field of smartphone photography, or 'iPhonography'. The rapid increase in mobile camera sophistication is the latest stage in the shrinking space between seeing and sharing.
McCune added: "Since the Kodak Brownie, through to the Polaroid Instant and into the age of digital photography, technology has been closing the time between taking a photo and sharing it.
Smart phone cameras and apps like instagram mean that you can offer a photo to global networks faster than typed text in many instances."
According to him, people don't just share imagery when newsworthy events take place in their vicinity.
As with other social media networks, the vast amount of content on instagram documents daily activity and routine, normal folk doing normal stuff, but iPhonography allows people to display their lives in visually arresting ways.
This presents a creative challenge.
He says: "The body of my research involved engaging directly with individual instagram users from across the platform, and I found that users are highly concerned with both personal production and social reception.
Critically, they weren't simply capturing but consciously crafting the imagery they shared."
Deliberate artistry when creating content was a point of pride for many of the users.
Instagram offers the ability to use a variety of filters that produce different effects, and the desire to create striking visuals through effects and interesting perspectives to impress the community was a key motivator.
This led many to conclude that iPhonography has encouraged them to look closer at their environment.
He says: "All of the users I interviewed celebrated the creative aspects of iPhonography and the way it altered how they went about their day. Users enjoy thinking more imaginatively about the places they live and the people and events that surround them, seeing the world in new ways as they cultivate their own distinctive visual styles".
McCune added: "It was amazing to discover that many instagram users felt the combination of a creative practice and a supportive community offered something therapeutic."