Archive | February, 2019

In defense of Facebook

3 Feb


With all the understandably bad press Facebook has been receiving lately, I feel it is incumbent up on me as a Facebook addict to defend the site for its very real contribution to social well being. Yes, yes, I know all the arguments against it by those who are horrified by its very existence:  the intrusion into privacy, its supposed collection of data about us, the permission it gives to hate-filled trolls to spew bile at those they disagree with, the possibilities of manipulation of political processes. But here’s how it works for the majority of us who use Facebook as a way to communicate with friends, to find others of like-minded interests and attitudes with which we can share opinions and cultural communities, offer advice and support, and stay in touch with people who we may never meet.  On that last point, I think of it as the contemporary version of the old letter-writing phenomenon of having pen pals, but on a global scale! When I was a kid, I had 6 pen pals in other countries to whom I wrote regularly, and looked forward to their letters in return.  Now I do the same thing, but instantaneously and with a much larger number of people in many more countries.

Let me present two examples of how MY Facebook has worked positively just in the last few days. The first example relates to the cute little meme I’ve put above. One of my Facebook friends is facing an unexpected medical intervention, and she’s understandably scared. She reached out on FB to let us all know what was happening.  An enormous number of people–some of whom she didn’t know before–wrote back, offering encouragement, support, and in some cases, practical advice and offers for assistance.  She was so heartened by this show of support and understanding of her worries that she posted the meme in thanks.  We will now follow her progress through updates on FB from her partner and from her as she heals.

The second example is, for me, even more poignant and special. Through Facebook, I have come to know the fate of many of my former students at the university where I used to teach. It has been such a wonderful experience to learn of their successes (and mishaps) and to know that they remember me positively; I am now Facebook friends with so many of them who I remember as baby-squirrel 20 year olds while they are now in their 50s!  One of these former students is one who has fallen between the cracks of a “successful” life: a gifted artist, he is now homeless, suffering mental illness and issues of addiction.  Somehow he has managed to keep a Smartphone, and kept in touch–if often incoherently–with his old college friends via Facebook. After a memorial service upon the death of his only close companion, and in the midst of the hideous cold that hit the Midwest, he disappeared.  A concerned call went out on FB, to him and to all those who may have known his whereabouts. Because of the alert, we were able to learn his whereabouts, that he had found shelter. More importantly, he learned that there were people who care about him and are concerned for his welfare. Now a support page has been set up on FB for him. We have been sending him information on homeless shelters, encouraging him to get help for his illness, and generally letting him know that we recognize him as a human being in need. What’s more, his plight has brought together former friends, and people who have now recognized “there but for the grace of God go I”–one of their own who just hasn’t made a very good go in his life choices.

Some of you may say “well, these things could also happen on email” or by phone or in writing. But why not use social media for what it is supposed to do, which is bring people together quickly and globally?  I do understand people who do not want to have anything to do with social media. My husband is one, as are many of my friends to whom I try to stay in touch by email, and for the really old ones, by letter.  I just wanted to express my gratitude for something as POSITIVE in terms of social communication as Facebook can be.  If, like me, one does express vehement political opinions on FB, one does have to be selective in who you Friend–I have had to lose a few “friends” whose outlooks on life, religion, and politics were so opposed to my own. So yes, we are preaching to our own choir, but who cares?  Isn’t that what friends do? If you don’t like someone’s shares, you just scroll past them, as I am sure many of my FB friends do with my political rants–as I do with some others.

And to those who say it is a waste of time–yes, it is.  But it can also be culturally and intellectually stimulating. It isn’t all memes and inane comments about what one had for dinner.  And what can be better than sharing thoughts and enthusiasms with friends?

Thanks, Facebook friends, for being there!