Rethinking Facebook: social networks could educate

I first opened my Facebook account roughly three years ago. At that point, as hopefully we all remember, Facebook was for college students only. I had waited diligently to get my Georgia Tech e-mail account set up instead of cheating the system and using my DeKalb County provided email address instead, as so many of my impatient friends had done.

Barely six months later I came to terms with the fact that Facebook, that far off land of social networking that my older cousins had tormented me with and excluded me from for years, was no longer so exclusive. High school users were allowed to join and create profiles, end even more depressingly, my own sibling’s friends’ profiles popped up in my friend request box daily.

Needless to say, I was not a big fan of Facebook’s first foray into social inclusion of those not burdened by college tuition, and much less so by the eventual universal access to Facebook . For one thing, how could non-college students, otherwise known as “people with real lives,” possibly have the hours of endless free time needed to keep an up-to-date profile and entertain me?

Thanks to extreme self-control I was able to resist joining one of the “1 million strong against the new Facebook” groups, which is fortunate because I am sure that my inclusion in the Facebook group would have had huge consequences, such as convincing Facebook management that traffic through their service had at least a million people who were willing to use their product, despite hating its very format.

Recently though, Facebook has been bucking its trend of creating improvements that annoy me. In fact, this week’s partnership with CNN to help broadcast the inauguration was downright convenient. While I cannot express to you how annoying it is to see an easy-to-find streaming news source show up just after I got back to the country (not in time to save me hours of tears and hassle), the function was definitely one of the most useful applications released lately.

For those of us not brave enough to stand out in Centennial Park to witness the historic swearing-in ceremony yet still stuck without a TV (no, I don’t own a TV), the application was, in a word, perfect.

Not only did it capitalize on young American’s combined obsessions with Facebook and the Obama family in a brilliant money-making scheme, but it also was actually educational. By watching the scrolling status updates of my friends and fellow viewers I was able to confirm that yes, Dick Cheney looked like an evil mastermind being wheeled around by his minions, as well as my suspicion that it was Roberts, not Obama, who messed up the Oath of Office written into the very constitution that both of them specialized in as attorneys.

Most importantly, I found universal affirmation to my belief that the poor, innocent poet who read after President Obama probably should have memorized the poem she wrote for the occasion if she wanted to even appear competent when speaking after a man who has been declared one of the greatest orators of our age.

Watching the status updates from my friends in Europe, other lazy students still in bed like myself and those brave few actually in Washington D.C. with their iPhones, I realized that the mix of social media and news networks on Inauguration Day, although only temporary, is the next obvious step in news broadcasting.

Modern America’s compulsive need-to-know nature requires us not only to hear news that is updated constantly, but also to know what our friends think about it. To quote the video “Twitter in Plain English,” sometimes people just need to know what is happening between daily blog posts, or in this case, between sentences in any given news broadcast. The combination of instantaneous user-generated content with “hard news” is a revolutionary step in that direction.

While news stations becoming too involved in social media poses obvious risks (mainly, that I will lose the ability to claim that I ever check any other websites, or that desperation to generate hits and commentary will drive the media to even new lows of partisanship), this sort of partnership could be what is needed to keep America informed.

Consider it like a mental vitamin: every morning when you check to make sure your significant other hasn’t posted on their ex’s wall, you could instead choose to check the state of current affairs, without even having to navigate away from the page.