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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Things You Can—and Can’t—Do on Facebook

Okay, so Facebook is the most popular social network. What does that mean to you—and what can you use it for?

Things to Do

First off, you can use Facebook to let your friends and family know what you’re up to. You do this in the form of status updates, short text messages that appear on both your home page and in the news feed that is displayed on your friends’ home pages. It’s easy to log on and post a short status update; you can even do it from your cell phone!

Next, you can use Facebook to view all your friends’ status updates. As previously noted, all these updates are consolidated into a single news feed on your Facebook home page. Just open the www.facebook.com page, log in, and get updated on what all your friends are doing.

You can also use Facebook to communicate privately with individual friends. Facebook offers a built-in email system for private messages, as well as real-time instant messaging (Facebook calls it “chat”) with online friends. So not everything you do has to be public.

That said, you can also use Facebook to share photos and videos. Just upload the files you want to share and they’re displayed on a tab on your profile page. New photos and videos you upload are also displayed as status updates, so your friends receive notice of them in their news feeds.

Facebook also offers a way to announce and track important events, such as parties and gatherings, as well as invite your friends to these events. Of course, you can join any group you find interesting on the site, as well as play games, buy and sell merchandise, and do all sorts of other fun and marginally useful stuff. It’s a fairly robust website, after all—a real community online.

Things Not to Do

With all the things you can do on Facebook, what sorts of things shouldn’t you do? That is, what sorts of things is Facebook just not that suited for?

First off, you have to remember that communicating with people via Facebook is no substitute for face-to-face communication. Those short little status updates you make can’t convey the same information as a longer letter, or the emotion of a telephone conversation. Facebook communication is, at best, a kind of shorthand. When you really want to discuss something in depth, you need to do it in person, not on Facebook.

Then there’s the whole issue of what constitutes a friend. A person you call a “friend” on Facebook might not be someone you’d even recognize if you ran into them in the grocery store. It’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you’re immensely popular because you have a long friends list, but these folks aren’t really friends; they’re just people you broadcast to online. They’re more like an audience than anything else.

This leads to the issue of whether online social networking is an effective replacement for real-world communication. You may be “talking” to more so-called friends online, but you may actually be talking to fewer real friends in the real world. Physical relationships could suffer if you spend too much time communicating virtually on Facebook; it’s a false sort of familiarity that results.

And when you have hundreds of people on your Facebook friends list, how well do you really know any of them? It’s possible if not likely that some of the people you call “friends” really aren’t the people they present themselves to be. For whatever reason, some people adopt different personas—including fake names and profile pictures—when they’re online; it’s possible that you’re establishing relationships on Facebook that have no basis in reality—which could result in online stalking or worse.

Bottom line, you shouldn’t let Facebook replace your real-world friendships. It can supplement your friendships, make some general communication easier, and even help you renew old acquaintances, but it can never replace a good conversation with an old friend. That sort of connection is—and will always be—priceless.

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