Riding the Facebook wave

Facebook is a giant wave rapidly gaining momentum. Of course, it’s scary to some, a force of nature, a natural conclusion of marrying a social species with advanced technology. You have three options; ride the wave, get pummeled by it, or observe from far away. Which one do you choose?

I think you all know which one I chose.

Facebook, created 15 years ago, has grown from a David to a Goliath rapidly. This is an article celebrating the benefits Facebook has brought to me personally. I write so that those individuals who stand to gain from a Facebook account, are not driven away in exaggerated fear, created by the recent media focus on Facebook’s scandals. I will not evaluate the ethics of Facebook’s monetization or privacy policies, or claim that they are honest and transparent. Those points are important to but are addressed in other articles.

Facebook has helped me in many ways. The examples I think often are when it helped me get my first full time job, facilitated in person meet ups with friends who I might not have thought to contact otherwise, and acted as an aggregator of news.

Facebook helped me get my first full time job. When my promised position fell through due to a hiring freeze, I posted a Facebook status update :

My friend, Brandon Taing who I had not seen for 3 years at the time, helped me get the job by referral because he saw the above status update that I was looking for a job. If Facebook did not exist, it would be less likely that I would have known to contact Brandon. Perhaps, I might have gone through several of my friends’ numbers and texted each one individually, or sent a mass email that might have ended up in spam folders. In addition to Brandon’s referral, I received interviews from 6 different companies directly from that status update. I am not even counting the interviews I received from directly messaging friends on Facebook about opportunities in their companies. Clearly, the existence of Facebook played a massive role in aiding my job search.

The conversation that led to my first full time job

Facebook has made keeping in touch with friends around the world a breeze. I lived in 4 different countries during my life and travelled to 56. A significant percentage of my friends are also frequent movers. Thus, it is difficult without a tool like Facebook to know where everyone is at any given time. While travelling the world and arriving in a new city, I search for friends in a particular city.

The basic Facebook search filter

For example, I was in London for a week and was able to catch up with a lot of friends, some of whom I had not seen for more than 10 years. Without Facebook, I would have to email a lot of friends individually. This would have taken up more time and been less successful. I would have emailed a lot of people who had moved to London initially but no longer lived there anymore. In addition, I would likely miss people who moved to London recently, since I wouldn’t have been aware of their move. It would be a challenge to email thousands of friends repeatedly to check on their location. With Facebook, I met about twice as many friends as I would have otherwise (half of the friends I found through Facebook’s search were friends whose relocation to London I was initially unaware of)

In addition to keeping up with old friends, Facebook was extremely useful for keeping in touch with new friends I may have encountered once or twice, but that I had a meaningful connection with. For example, during a long bus journey or during a wait at a bus stop, I might add the person next to me on Facebook. Due to distance and a statistical unlikelihood of meeting any one particular person again, I am unlikely to email these friends at high frequency. However, due to Facebook, I am able to find them easily and meet them when I am in their city without frequent communication before. For example, I recently met a Finnish friend on a bus in Albania. I was only in Finland for 3 days. I knew on the back of my mind to contact him in Helsinki but had briefly forgotten his name. When I searched for friends who lived in Finland, he appeared in the search.

Apart from the search function, Facebook’s check in function has helped me.

Often, I have been able to catch up with friends who coincidentally happened to be in the same city I was in, due to a Facebook check-in. For example, I checked in to Buenos Aires and was able to catch up with a friend from Slovakia who I met in Peru who saw my Facebook status. It works the other way around to. An old friend from Stanford was visiting Dallas, and we were able to catch up because I saw his Facebook status that he was coming into town. Another friend from Puerto Rico who I met in Morocco posted that he was in Mexico and I met up with him on his last night there. Without Facebook, these in person meetings would likely not have happened.

I gain immense utility from my friends posting articles on Facebook. In effect, Facebook crowdsources some of my research. Of course, I do supplement with my own research independent of Facebook later. Some people complain of an echo chamber. Facebook is a tool though. If you complain of a biased echo chamber, Facebook is not the problem, the lack of diversity in your social circle is. Using the 2016 United States presidential election as an example, the fact that I had both liberal and conservative friends meant that I saw articles on both sides of the political spectrum. CNN has a liberal bias and Fox News has a conservative bias. Obtaining my news from only one of the channels would surely distort my interpretation of the news. I do think CNN is less overtly biased than Fox but my point here is that neither are objective.

Due to a larger group of friends sharing articles they found important, I had access to niche opinion websites to. Some were more objective than others but even viewing “fake news” had its benefits because it showed me examples of the misinformation that was spreading. Looking at major news events covered through different lenses, at more moderate ends as well as more extreme ends, helped me reach a more informed[1] opinion. In addition, I obtained a broad overview of how different parts of the population think. For the purpose of argument, I used conservatives and liberals as an example. Of course, the reality is much more nuanced than that and a lot of people have a mix of beliefs from both sides.

Facebook also helps me to keep abreast of global news, fresh from their local news outlets. For example, I was able to read local British sources on Brexit that my friends who live in the UK posted. I was able to read local sources in French when Macron won the French presidential election. I was able to read local sources in both English and Malay when Mahathir won the Malaysian elections. I was able to read local sources in Spanish when Fuego erupted in Guatemala. Yes, I could have found all these sources through Google rather than Facebook but Facebook brought all these articles to my doorstep. It lowered the energy required to get to the news, and made it more likely for me to read the news. Relying on a single news channel would have filtered other countries’ news via the eyes of a particular news channel from a particular country.

There are many other uses of Facebook I have not covered in this article. I have mainly chosen to cover the points that are have directly affected me the most. I have friends who met their spouse on Facebook, roommates who used to be strangers who I introduced after noticing their status updates looking for roommates, and friends who get advice on how to solve issues by asking their friends on Facebook.

I encourage you to be the surfer in the image at the top. Yes, Facebook’s power can be intimidating but always remember that Facebook is a tool. Take control of Facebook and harness its power. Just be aware of its limitations.

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[1]The word choice of ‘informed’ rather than ‘balanced’ opinion is deliberate

Credits

Wave picture by Jeremy Bishop

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