Defending the much-maligned Facebook

2 Aug

August 2, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

Facebook has been catching a lot of heck lately, much of it in the pages of The Telegram. Columnist Peter Jackson didn’t mention it by name, but was surely talking about Facebook (April 27, 2010) when he said he avoids social networking “with studious resolve.”

And fair enough. It’s a free world. But Jackson goes one better, taking a swipe at those who do partake in sites like Facebook.

“In my opinion, online networking, in all its forms, has become a vast wasteland of self-obsession, of unrequited companionship, of time-consuming diversion and societal alienation,” he wrote. “I would go so far as to suggest it is unnatural even to be able to connect in this way to friends, family and total strangers every waking minute of the day.”

On May 10, columnist Pam Frampton also took a swipe at Facebook, proudly announcing that she had pulled the plug on her account.

Well, allow me to say a few words in Facebook’s defence. Much has been written elsewhere about the web site, especially the privacy fiasco – to which the owner seems to have responded effectively – but in simple terms, why do we use Facebook? What’s the good of it?

This week, a few examples, drawn from personal experience, of how Facebook comes in handy, and sometimes accomplishes miracles.

Networking

Facebook has many functions, all of them enabled by your list of friends. Some have a few dozen, others have hundreds. There is no right or wrong number – you can have as many friends as you want. I have several hundred, and I know about three quarters of them – others have ‘friended’ me because they follow my blog, or this column. And, because I blog about media, I have added many journalists and media personalities to my friends list.

Whenever I’m fishing for a story or have a question for my media contacts, I simply message them on Facebook. On occasion, friends have posted updates that caught my attention and, in easily a dozen cases, resulted in interesting blog items. Reporters who maintain a strong list of Facebook friends have a tremendous advantage over those who don’t.

Finding Things You Want

In 2008, the Leonard Cohen concerts in St. John’s sold out in minutes, while I got nothing but a busy signal. On the day of the show, in a fit of desperation, I posted a status update on Facebook, asking if there were spare tickets out there. Within an hour, a Facebook friend said she knew someone who had tickets, but couldn’t go because something else had come up. After a few phone calls, I had a pair of Leonard Cohen tickets – at cost price.

Anyone who wanted to see the show, but didn’t get tickets, realizes this is a Really Big Deal. If you attended that concert, you know it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I was darn lucky to see it… and I have Facebook to thank for that.

More recently, I posted an update, asking if anyone from a rural area was interested in swapping houses during vacation time, or possibly renting their summer home. One friend replied to say her parents might be open to renting their comfy house, by the ocean. That didn’t quite work out, but later that day, I chatted on Facebook with another friend who had a cabin available, just outside Gros Morne. Perfect. Neither connection would have happened without Facebook.

Making Dreams Happen

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog item about Joshua Dawson, a Newfoundland entrepreneur who makes his living marketing unique experiences, and, just for fun, delivers Dream Days to people who are suffering or recovering from serious illness. By now, you’ve seen Joshua, and his distinctive blue genie face, in the media. I was first to write about him in this province (and, yes, I learned about him on Facebook).

Not long after that, I posted a link in Facebook to a Telegram story about Angela Mary Butler, a spunky and talented teen from Mount Pearl who had just come through a serious battle with cancer. She documented her experience in a harrowing, heartwarming and even funny photo set on Flickr.com.

Joshua Dawson saw that link, and was impressed by Angela’s story. In May, he messaged me on Facebook to say he wanted to give Angela a Dream Day, asking if I could connect him with a close relative. Stealth was important, as the Dream Day had to be a surprise. I connected him with one of Angela’s teachers – also on Facebook – then stepped back and watched it happen.

On June 25, Dawson delivered that Dream Day. It was miraculous to see it unfold on the TV news. And I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have happened without Facebook.

The critics can dump all they like on Facebook. But it is successful for 400 million good reasons.

Even if you’re not a Leonard Cohen fan.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com. Of course, you can also find him on Facebook.

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