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Why Facebook?– A response to Professor Bainbridge

My dear friend Steve Bainbridge raises a critical existential question. He writes:

I’ve been on Facebook for about six months now. Reconnected with a few old friends. Once the newness wore off, however, I pretty much stopped posting or reading other’s posts. I’ve only got maybe three status posts in the last six weeks or so (other than blog posts that FB automatically posts).

I mean, I don’t care that you’re bummed because the Lakers lost. Your kid’s status as an honor student at So and So Middle School means nothing in my life. I really don’t give a crap what you had for dinner, unless you post a recipe and wine recommendation, which you can’t do even if you wanted. And I really, really, really don’t give a damn about your latest Mafia wars hit or, gawd help us, your latest Farmville exploit. (BTW, here is a great collection of inane FB posts. And here is a post on how to hide the Mafia war-type status posts.)

My latest (and possibly last) status post reads:

Why are we here? What’s the point of this form of existence? (FB, not Earth.)

I am quite serious about this. I’m really not convinced by Facebook.But I am famously asocial (maybe even anti-social), so YMMV.

Hmmmm . . . .

Well, I  don’t think Steve is asocial or anti-social. Indeed, for the forty-years in which I’ve known him, I’d say he was a pretty social person and quite a raconteur. But beyond that, he raises an important question: What is the point of Facebook?

Now I am on Facebook, Twitter, and I have a blog, and I find that each can be employed in an inane and rather trivial fashion. But, at the same time, each of them can serve extremely important purposes. Since Steve raises the issue of Facebook, I’ll just make a few points about it.

First, on a personal level, Facebook has allowed me to connect to people that I have not seem in years. That has actually been great. I had lost touch with some people that I was truly fond of, and now we are back in touch. Now, if somebody truly were asocial or anti-social, this might not be a great benefit. But for me it has been a blast.

Second, on a scholarly level, there are many posts on Facebook about the issues that I study. For example, it was from a Facebook post that I just discovered the remarks on Sudan that US Ambassador Susan Rice had made today. True, one can find such things from a variety of sources– newspaper websites, blogs, Twitter, etc. But you can also find them on Facebook.

Third, on a professional level, Facebook has helped me keep in touch with alums and students in my program. I am the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program  (MSFS) at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. MSFS is a professional masters that prepares students for leadership positions in the public, private, and non-profit sectors of international affairs. Each year, we graduate nearly 100 students. One excellent way to stay in touch with them and help strengthen our alumni network is through Facebook. Not only am I Facebook friends with many of the graduates and students and faculty, but the program also maintains an MSFS Facebook Fan Page=. There, we can post links, videos, and photos about our students, faculty, and alums.  And . . . the alums, faculty, and students can also post such items on that Fan Page to share with each other.  While blogs and program websites can do similar things, Facebook seems to be the medium that most students and recent grads– and increasingly faculty– use, and so it makes sense for the Program to take advantage of this platform.

Bottom line– Facebook is not the holy grail of social media. But I find it to be one– among many– extremely useful tools of communication.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.