Facebook has had a bad year. From the nastiness of the 2016 presidential campaign, to the increasing difficulty of sorting real news from fake, to Facebook’s practice of filtering and controlling what you see in your news feed, Facebook has become the social media site everyone loves to hate.
I regularly see posts from friends who say they are looking to cut back their Facebook use and spend more time on real life. It’s a good goal. It is far too easy to give social media too much time. There is convincing research suggesting we are becoming physically addicted to our devices. So taking steps to limit and manage the way we use social media is smart.
Yet with all of its problems, Facebook still has a lot going for it, and I for one am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here are some of the ways Facebook continues to be a positive presence in the lives of many.
1. Facebook Allows You to Find People You’ve Lost
Before social media, much less the Internet, it was a lot more difficult to track down people you had lost touch with. Somewhere along the way I lost contact with my former college roommate and maid of honor. Life got the best of both of us, we both moved without sending timely changes of address, and suddenly we couldn’t find each other. Years passed. I had almost given up any hope of finding a dear friend. Then one day one of us (I don’t remember which) found the other one on Facebook. Life has been better ever since.
2. It Provides a Community You Might Otherwise Not Have
I have friends at church, at work, and in the community. But my go-to support group, the people who “get” me like no one else, is a group of fellow homeschooling Lutheran moms I first connected with almost 20 years ago on an email list. For many years we shared the joys and struggles of homeschooling—and life—via email; we now do so via Facebook.
The ladies in the group are spread all around the country, but thanks to Facebook, they are never more than a click away. We pray for each other, share stories and pictures of our children (many of whom are now having their own children), ask each other’s advice, laugh together, and cry together. I know that no matter where I live, what church I go to, or what job I have, those ladies are going to be there for me, and I for them. Facebook is what makes that possible.
3. Opportunities to Practice Good Discourse and Manners
I know. Last year was rough, not just on Facebook, but in real life. The 2016 presidential campaign tested us in new and various ways, and I found myself at odds with people on all sides of the political spectrum. Still, I was able to have meaningful discussions with almost all of them. It can be done, but it takes a desire to do so and sustained effort from all parties involved.
You may have neither the interest nor time, and that’s fine. Perhaps the other person is unwilling, in which case the best strategy is to simply walk away. But if you can hang in there and actually listen and try to respond with respect and gentleness, you may emerge with a renewed faith in people’s goodwill along with a much-needed reminder that the important things in life go way beyond one Facebook thread or presidential campaign.
4. Facebook Provides Opportunities for Prayer
Rarely a Facebook login goes by that I don’t see one of my friends sharing a concern: illness, financial difficulty, job loss, move, death in the family—these are the stuff of life, and we all go through them at one time or another. A need expressed is an opportunity for the faithful to pray. When one of your friends shares something that provides an occasion for prayer, you can bless both yourself and that person by asking God’s care.
It doesn’t have to be a lengthy prayer—simply a “God bless my friend” or a “Lord, have mercy” will do. God knows the need, and he is really good at supplying the words that we struggle to come up with. Some people give up Facebook for Lent. That’s great, but another approach might be, instead of commenting or posting so much, to simply pray for the people in your news feed.
5. Facebook Allows Closer Contact with Extended Family
I am one of 11 sisters and brothers. As we have gotten older, it has become more difficult to keep in touch with each other, much less with our children and grandchildren. Facebook offers the chance to do that better.
On Facebook I can follow the doings of cousins, nieces, and nephews, not to mention great-nieces and -nephews, with whom I might otherwise have no contact. Even though I might not have ever met that lovely young lady in the prom dress, it does my heart good to see her smile and to see in that smile echoes of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. It is a reminder of the continuity of human history and of the impact that one person can have on that human history far beyond his time spent walking this earth.
6. It Helps Spread the Word about Causes You Care About
I’ve signed petitions, contributed to worthwhile causes, and learned about things I otherwise wouldn’t have, all as a result of seeing them on Facebook. A few years ago a dear friend of mine suffered a freak accident when she fell off a ladder at her house, cut her head, and ended up almost dying from necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh-eating” bacteria). She was between jobs and uninsured at the time. Facebook provided her family a means of quickly passing along information about her condition and asking for financial help with her medical bills. As I shared information about her ordeal, friends of mine followed her progress and prayed for her even though she was a stranger to them.
7. Facebook Exposes Things You Wouldn’t Otherwise See
True, sometimes there are things you get exposed to that you wish you hadn’t. At other times, though, you may find your world expanded positively. Recently my adult son, a music major, performed his master’s piano recital. It was livestreamed on YouTube for those who wished to attend but couldn’t do so in person.
Before the livestreaming, a high school friend who retired from military service and went back to school told me he was going to watch the livestream to write a paper for his college music appreciation class. I have not seen this man in 35 years, yet here he was in another state, watching my son’s piano recital, a kind of interaction Facebook can also facilitate. When I provided him a program and some information on the pieces, he joked, “Who would have thought, all these years later, you’d be helping me with school?” I certainly would have not predicted it, but I would have never predicted Facebook!
8. Facebook Provides Opportunities to Build People Up
Last year, a childhood friend that I have not seen since elementary school looked me up on Facebook. This dear lady gave me one of the best gifts I have ever been given in sharing a memory I had forgotten: more than 45 years ago, when we were both only 6 or 7, I taught her to read music. To my amazement, she credited this with sparking a lifelong pursuit of music and choral singing.
When I recently “introduced” her (via Facebook) to my first piano teacher, the one whose instruction allowed me to instruct another, it was a remarkable example of life’s ripple effect, whereby the most apparently minor of events can change the course of not just one life, but many.
9. Facebook Is Still Fun
Yeah, I know. There’s the fake news and the clickbait and the political rants and the anatomical costumes (don’t get me started). But mixed in with all the stupidity, there are still the funny dogs, cute kids, vets coming home, and stories of people helping people.
As with any good thing, Facebook is best enjoyed in moderation. And we should always ask ourselves, what person or activity am I missing out on right now because I am on Facebook? Time spent online is time not spent in the community, at church, or enjoying the flesh-and-blood people in our everyday life. There are always tradeoffs, and it’s important to manage social media so that it doesn’t manage you.
So insert all applicable caveats, qualifiers and disclaimers, and by all means, take regular social media breaks. But don’t be embarrassed to admit you like Facebook. I just did.