Facebook has been in the news a lot the past couple of weeks. While much of that news concerns the terms of service, in Catholic circles the debate has been about giving Facebook up for Lent. The push behind that movement is that, for many people, Facebook has become an addiction. They have been neglecting the real-life people in their lives in order to spend much of their time interacting with their on-line friends. Obviously, this is a problem. Nevertheless, Facebook, in and of itself, is moral-neutral. Like the internet itself, and television before it, it can be used as a force for good or evil. So, then, how can Facebook be a tool for good?
First, it is a wonderful tool for connecting with old friends. Most Facebook users speak of the thrill of finding people one has long lost track of. It is fascinating to discover where people’s lives have taken them. While requesting “friends” can be somewhat like reliving high school – wondering whether someone will accept your offer of friendship and feeling rejection if they don’t – getting the opportunity to talk with people who you were actually friends with twenty (or more) years ago is great. Don’t neglect your current relationships, but who among us can’t use a few more friends in our social sphere?
Second, it can be used as a networking tool. In the current difficult economic times, reaching out to others within one’s industry is all the more important. Facebook can assist with learning more about one’s profession and making connections with others struggling and succeeding in the same field. Within community groups, it can be a quick way to communicate with large numbers of people effectively and easily.
Third, it can be used as a tool for support and encouragement. If someone is having a bad day and he or she posts a status statement to that effect, one can reach out and offer a word or two of encouragement. It can make all the difference in a person’s day.
Fourth, it can be used to help spread the Good News. From promoting the pro-life cause to posting links to insightful spiritual articles or podcasts, Facebook can be used as a low-key evangelization tool. One can bear quiet witness to one’s faith, inviting others to take part. People have the right to ignore the posts, of course, but the invitation is there.
Fifth, one can support and bring attention to one’s favorite charities. Many charities have fan pages and cause pages. One can invite others to support the same causes and help raise awareness of the many people and organizations working to make our world a better place.
The Facebook phenomenon will not last forever. While it lasts, however, it can also be a tremendous force for good in our world. Use it responsibly. Use it wisely. Use it well.