Social Media for Social Good, Part Four: Facebook

I've written several posts in a series about utilizing social media for social good. I've written about Twitter and blogging as platforms for activists sharing information and I've written about particular campaigns, including the World Malaria Day campaign. Last week, I'd planned to write about Facebook as a vehicle for social good, but I'll admit, my own concerns about the company's privacy policies made me hesitate about doing so.

Of course, the amazing thing about social media is that the power rests not just in one particular company or in one particular platform, but in the users -- the millions of users -- of these various sites. And as the week has gone by and as more and more people have questioned Facebook's stance on sharing personal data, it may well be that Facebook has to bow to the wishes of the people, rather than to the wishes of the marketers that drive, in part, the desire to know what we all "like" on the social networking site.

Despite concerns about Facebook, the site has proven to be a powerful force for mobilizing people. There is a good reason that it has quickly become the destination on the Web, second only to Google's search, and in no small part, it's because our friends -- not just our "followers" as we have on Twitter or our "connections" as we have on LinkedIn, but truly our "friends" -- are on Facebook. Facebook is the place in which we can connect with old friends from high school, stay in touch with distant relatives, find out what co-workers past and present are up to, see what our friends care and think about.

And the ability to have a space where we can show what we care and think about should not be underestimated.  These are the people, perhaps, we have the most sway over.  These are the people, perhaps, we can truly have the most rigorous and open debate.

Through the site's "fan" pages -- now the site uses the word "like" in lieu of "fan" -- we are able to show our affinity with a number of products, services, ideas, and organizations. Arguably there's a danger where one click allows you to "like" both jelly-filled donuts and a gubernatorial candidate with the same digital effort. But a candidate or a campaign can then utilize that support to spread messages and to further expand their reach. (Of course, a jelly-filled donut could use the site for the same purpose, I suppose.)

As access to mainstream media tends to be beyond the budgets of many grassroots efforts, having a page on Facebook allows for entry into the public sphere at no cost.  Facebook joins that public sphere with the more private sphere of one's personal circle of friends.  Although I have heard friends lament some of the political opinions they see shared on their Facebook walls, I contend that this is precisely the space in which we can truly explore our differences and build coalitions and campaigns with those whom we find political (and social media) affinity.