UU Mom (uu_mom) wrote in prince_georges,
UU Mom

Facebook as a community organizing tool for Prince Georgians?

Political and community activists have inquired about using Facebook as a community organizing tool (after all, Obama did). Well, I think it was mostly Obama supporters and volunteers with the time to help get the word out certainly can and do use Facebook. I've only been on it for a few months, but I'd like to share my experiences here and if you've found some better ways to use Facebook, I'd like to hear about it.

I resisted learning one more online tool/social network until someone invited me to an event on Facebook. To RSVP on Facebook, I had to join, but I decided not to at first since I could RSVP to the organizers via email or even through a web page. But the event was an important one to me, so I learned that I could invite others through Facebook in a way that's different than just sending email. I noted that apparently the Facebook event was working to get the word out, because there were hundreds of people signed up.

Since then, I've accumulated Friends, since that is what you have to do to communicate with people online. You start by identifying a geographic network. It then automatically gives you suggestions of people you might know. You can invite people to join by putting in their email addresses, but I didn't have to do that, because one friend would suggest other friends I might know and I'd find numerous people I already knew on Facebook. I eventually found distant neighbors that I used to be in more regular contact, but have not been in contact for a while.

I also found family members there. One of my neices, whom I lost contact with, was 9mos. pregnant and had a photo and just gave a little message every couple of days to say how she was doing until 2 weeks late the baby was born & she posted a photo from the hospital.

You're encouraged to post a brief note that people can see on their home page - one or two lines from each friend who's logged in recently, including their photo if they uploaded one (and most do). Some post links to web sites and YouTube videos and you see only a small thumbnail, so you can skip it or check it out. You can also select various ways you view Facebook - from your home page or from the Status page or just wait for someone to write on your "Wall" which will send you an email if you haven't changed the default email settings.

Some groups find it a convenient way to "meet" to communicate and get to know each other better. Or just get the word out about their existence. A search on "Prince George's" yields over 500 results for everything. For groups alone, I get 169. There's a group called Gorgeous Prince George's, which has over 2,000 members, but I don't think it accomplishes anything except letting others who look at your Groups that you're a member of it and you can check out people's comments on the group. There are also discussion boards on the group, but most of them have 1 post by 1 person. Some people have also posted photos there. Most of these seem to be social groups that aren't visited regularly by their members. Some have a list of all their officers and a link to their profile, though most people set their profile to only be seen by other friends, so you have to ask to become their friend and they have to approve in order to see more about them.

But would they want to friend every person who friended them? This is a question many ask on Facebook - who to friend and who not to - there apparently is a limit of 1,000 friends and many reach that limit, while many others, like me, are more picky about who they friend. I want to actually touch base with my Facebook Friends and not just have a long list whose comments I could never read.

I did find an organization that I never heard of before: Healthy Mentoring Matters, which "is a mentoring program, in which Prince George's County youth, who have at least one parent incarcerated, are appropriately matched with an adult mentor, who are screened and trained, for a one-on-one friendship-oriented mentoring relationship."

There are many more features on Facebook: There are "Page"s that you can become a "fan" of that can be a person, website, or an organization. There are "applications" that you can create or that you can use - there's one for Causes, there are others for Gifts (such as Karma or Mandala that are free, but I find can be time-consuming) and of course, you can spend money of some of them. Some applications are saving rainforest (or ocean & other causes) since companies donate and ads are fed to people who play games. All of these features are things that you can ignore or even block if you choose.

One warning, is that Facebook, just like many other special networking sites, will ask you to share your address book to invite people to join, and unknowingly people let the program in to their computer and more is taken than the email addresses of friends they'd like to invite - sometimes everyone whom they've ever gotten an email from or sent an email to is sent a message of invitation. Facebook is not as intrusive about doing that as some others I've seen, though - I didn't use that function, but I've never received an unintended invitation as I have with other sites, so they apparently make it clearer. I would recommend never to click on a link that says to go to your address book to invite people - best to copy and paste email addresses individually or type them in.

My final analysis after only a few months is that Facebook has limited usage as a community organizing tool. If people in your organization use it a lot, you can ask them to post events & links & even create a group there, but I'm not sure it will be any better for actual "organizing" than MySpace or LiveJournal. It is a good social networking tool, though, and has a better interface for keeping in touch with people than those. Also, people with a LiveJournal blog (or any other blog) can connect their blog to Facebook through Notes and your public blog posts will appear on Facebook automatically (you can only do this with one blog). I'm looking forward to learning other ways to use it that aren't too time-consuming.

See the latest Prince George's County blogger posts and news here.

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Tags: community service, facebook, prince george's
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