In between Mafia War requests, underage drunk pictures and useless questionnaires many users have begun to underestimate the importance of Facebook. Yet in days like today each of the 350 million users can personally feel how the social network affects us.
Facebook is one of the few ways that the relatives of the Haiti people around the world have to know what is happening there. Mothers know that their children are alive, governments can monitor the situation and NGOs can identify the places most in need of help.
I have a class mate from Haiti. His name is James Laham. Watching the news in the past several days I, naturally, got more and more worried about him and his family. Many of my friends had also sent me messages on Facebook asking me if I knew anything about James, since he was not responding to their messages or they were no longer in touch with him. Going on his Facebook profile, I saw that so many people have commented asking how they can help from Boston, from China, from Spain, from Brussels. There was the real international union which has the capacity to trigger change – without complicated policies, legislations, negotiations, etc. It is an international community guided only by solidarity and compassion.
James is ok. He logged on 19 hours ago from Brussels. His family is also there. He does have friends who are still in Haiti but from what he knows (pretty much only through Facebook, since the regular manners of communication are, by large, cut off) are doing ok, for the situation they are going through. I am happy about him and I wish him all the luck and strength in the world while going through this tragedy.
It was through Facebook that controversial news about the elections in Iran arrived to the international news agencies. Once the government in the country established the media blackout it was through Facebook, Flicr and YouTube that were bringing the latest news out of the conflicted nation and were spreading the notes between dissidents. It was through social media that Obama managed to unite a massive number of supporters moving his campaign. It was through their tools that he managed to generate a massive moral and financial support that would eventually help him win the US Presidency. It was the social network that was sending real time footage from the protests in China during the Olympic games. Even as this conflict is far from over, the closed country is already experiencing the dramatic effects in both social media and political circles. The growing complications about the rights and stretch of Google in the country have reached such a scale that even the US government has gotten involved, throwing its support behind the search engine. More importantly even, it is through social media that the “Chinese blanket of censorship” is being unveiled. They are one of the few tools which can get through China’s great firewall.
Be it as it may, Facebook (along with other social networks, blogs, and user generated video webs) touch us all. It does keep us connected and unites us in times of tragedy, and happiness, and dissatisfaction, and opinion making. The tools for real time communication that it provides help spread the word long before the print publications. It helps unite people around a democratic and just cause, and in the most recent case of Haiti it has triggered a course or action independently from governmental institutions and political influence.
Thus, the moral of the story, is that as much as you do not want to know what fish your friends have in their virtual Facebook aquarium, and whether your friend wonders if you or your boyfriend has a bigger nose, do not completely discard social networks since it is also a channel of information which will day by day touch our life.