Opinion

Facebook doesn't kill friendships, people do

Critics of the social media site should quit whining.

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It seems everyone has something negative to say about Facebook, the social media site that now boasts more than 300 million members. To them I have only this to say: Quit whining.

A recent column in The Wall Street Journal highlighted Facebook's ability to ruin friendships, claiming that it limits communication to typing and encourages people to share far too much information with their poor, unsuspecting friends. The New York Times reported last month on an exodus of Facebookers caused by Facebook fatigue. Anti-Facebook crusaders claim the application is stalking its users, taking every opportunity to pester its users with the latest ad tailored just for them.

Having Facebooked since its first year, I find these criticisms, at minimum, exaggerated. The simple truth is that Facebook fatigue is only a symptom of Facebook misuse. Like most things, it is only as detrimental to your life, habits, and relationships as you allow it to be. Consider complaints of pre-Facebook web-surfing, watching too much TV ("It rots your brain!"), and overeating. Perhaps skeptics would prefer Facebook to come with a warning: "Always Facebook in moderation" or "Facebook responsibly."

The overuse of the word "friend" on Facebook seems to have everyone confused. On Facebook, "friend" is the name of someone who is linked to your profile – they can see your information and you can see theirs. But this application has little bearing on real friendships. Genuine friends are still the friends who you actually spend time with, who actually write you substantive letters, and who actually care about you. We'd be wise to never confuse the two.

Recent developments in the application have made achieving Facebook moderation even easier. You can hide and ignore updates you don't care to see. You can tailor your security preferences to allow only certain "friends" access to your information and pictures.

Try using Facebook to contact friends who may have long ago changed their e-mail address and phone number. For looking at pictures of your baby nephew whom you see in person only twice a year. For finding out what your old college friends are up to. For congratulating your friends on their latest promotions, graduations, triathlons, birthdays, etc. For posting links and articles you find interesting, then engaging in discussions about them with your friends and acquaintances.

Sure, I've had days where I've wasted a little more time on Facebook than I should have, but I'm not going to blame Facebook for my own procrastination. If Facebook wasn't there I would have found something else to waste time with.

To my "friends": If you don't feel like posting something, cruising profiles, or changing your status, don't. If you tire of my updates, hide them. If you don't want to partake in the latest quiz-craze, don't. If you fear big brother is keeping tabs on you, don't post your life story to your profile. It's a fun and innovative tool at your fingertips that can be used for both good and evil. If you don't feel like Facebooking, don't.

Ann Pashenkov is a consultant at the Department of State. She uses Facebook to keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues who live and work all over the world.

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