Facebook is a virtual penny university

The discussions can go right down the gutter, but Facebook does offer a stimulating platform for an exchange of ideas.

Pinoys spend more than 4 hours a day on social media

Notwithstanding the crappy Internet service, Filipinos are a voracious lot when it comes to Internet consumption. 60% of the population is now online. Additionally, the country is number one in terms of time spent on social media, with Pinoys spending an average of 4.3 hours spent a day on social media alone.

Originally intended as a way to connect and reconnect with family and friends, social media has now evolved its purpose to become a more encompassing platform for information dissemination, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, event announcements, business promotion, customer acquisition and retention, and yes, even propaganda distribution.

If you want to be in the loop of things, you need to get on social media.

Coffee houses as penny universities

When I was watching this fascinating documentary on King George II of England last week, I was struck by the concept of penny universities and how Facebook might be the virtual counterpart of it nowadays. You see, in Georgian England, a coffeehouse was the best place to go to if you wanted to “catch up on news and gossip, attend scientific lectures, strike business deals, or chat with like-minded people about literature or politics.” That’s why coffee houses then were called penny universities. For a penny, you got stimulating doses of conversation with your cup of coffee. Doesn’t Facebook sound like the virtual equivalent of that nowadays?

Image by StockSnap on Pixabay.

The privilege of picking brains

Thanks to Facebook, the privilege of picking someone’s brain is now as easy as going to an individual’s wall (provided he/she opens it up to the public, i.e.). News items, scandals, and the like happen on a daily basis, and netizens are spoiled for choice in terms of the breadth and depth of opinions online.

Here are just a few of the local personalities I follow on Facebook if I need enlightenment on a particular subject, or if I just want to know what other people think about the latest hot topic:

Van Ybiernas — a professor of history at De La Salle University in Manila. Check out his posts on historical distortion and the purpose of a university. He also has a weekly Facebook Live program with a fellow history professor, Mr. Xiao Chua, called Dulowtard History Live. They welcome history-related questions there!

Orion Perez D — an expert on federalism. He’s very passionate about the topic and — like a lot of Filipinos who believe it’s the way forward - is keen on changing the current form of government within the present administration. You can read more about federalism in his site, The CoRRECT Movement.

Manny Pinol — the Agriculture Secretary. His wall is filled with essay-like updates on the latest ongoings in the Department of Agriculture. He projects a very hands-on image, and the future of local farmers seem to be in good hands with him at the helm.

F. Sionil Jose — a National Artist for Literature and a Nobel Prize for Literature nominee! His presence on Facebook is a blessing, and his insights on the nation’s moorings are precious.

There are tons more individuals that are worth a follow. I’ll leave it to you to find them. (If they want to be found, they’ll be easy to find!) If you scour posts diligently, you’ll even get gems from pages, groups, and comments left on public updates. This photo depicting Datu Piang’s house from the Philippines, My Philippines page, for instance, elicited a response from Datu Piang’s granddaughter herself!

Facebook offers snippets of wisdom and learning, that’s for sure.

A word on fake news

Facebook usage isn’t without its pitfalls. Are the online debates always healthy? No. Are all the ideas worth your time reading? Heck no. Can the online dialogues get way too toxic? YES.

It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns online. Fake news exists. Everyone has biases. Things can totally be manipulated to make an issue go viral.

That said, I believe that the good still far outweighs the bad. The best course of action is to apply critical thinking. Take note of the backgrounds of the individuals you follow online and try to understand where they come from. Why they do what they do and say what they say? Don’t cut off an opinion respectfully given just because it runs counter to what you want to believe. If an image looks too incredible to be real, then maybe it isn’t. Be mindful of URLs that seem to be legit but on second glance aren’t.

Facebook is a double-edged sword. We just need to harness its potential for good more, and that includes utilizing its potential for meaningful communication and education.

I am not personally acquainted with any of the individuals I mentioned above.

Info from Entrepreneur Philippines, The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain, and The Economist.

First image by StockSnap on Pixabay. Second image by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.

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