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Is Facebook Useful?

Media Consultant And QU Prof Says Yes ... Mostly; What Do You Think?

Is Facebook Useful?

For good or ill, Facebook seems here to stay.

To get some perspective on this phenomenon, I called media consultant Kenn Venit, who also teaches in the journalism department at Quinnipiac University.

You may remember Venit from his days on the air at News Channel 8. A consummate professional, he is now trying to instill his high standards in the next generation of journalists.

Venit is an avid Facebooker, using the site to share photos of his seven grandkids, keep up with old friends and associates and post news articles of interest that start thought-provoking conversations.

“I teach a class in global civilization called the Power of One in the Global Village,” Venit said. “We talk about Marshall McLuhan and how media affect and change people. Facebook, Twitter, the iPad have changed us dramatically. We spend time differently; we have new addictions.”

McLuhan was the Canadian media theorist who famously said “the medium is the message.” I don’t pretend to understand McLuhan completely, but I think he was trying to say that television, radio or other media influences how the message is perceived. He famously predicted the Internet and said we would all one day live in a global village.

Venit notes that hearing the ping on a Blackberry announcing a new text or email sends a message to our brain that is akin to the same good feeling we get when eating a piece of chocolate. Conversely, when someone doesn’t answer our email, we feel disappointed.

“It used to be that we waited for the mailman once a day,” Venit said.

In his class, students use technology to make friends with strangers across the globe, people in third-world countries who may be standing in long lines to use a public computer at the library. They conduct interviews via Skype.

The class also discussed the power of social media in the recent peaceful revolution in Egypt.

“The revolutionaries in Egypt declared that Facebook and Twitter were two major weapons prominent in getting people to work together,” Venit said. “They actually referred to them as weapons.”

Closer to home, Facebook played a role in weatherman Geoff Fox landing a job at Fox News shortly after being fired from Channel 8. Thousands of people posted messages saying Fox got a bum deal and hoping he would stay on the air in our own back yard.

“That wouldn’t have happened years ago,” Venit said. “If you were fired, you were fired.”

Facebook and email are unfiltered and instantaneous. Venit wishes his students and others would make use of a one-minute delay on some email programs to give themselves a chance to change their mind if the first message was overly harsh. Venit also cautions students to take care not to post photos and thoughts on Facebook that would jeopardize jobs and relationships in the future. And God forbid, if you’re ever arrested.

“As soon as you are in trouble, the first thing the media will do is look at your Facebook page,” he said.

Circling back to journalism, Venit said that under the First Amendment, we are all journalists. Using Facebook or Wordpress as the medium, we are the producers of our own content.  But it’s unclear to readers if we are bloggers, or bloggers with 40 years of news judgement.

“We’re staying up until 2 a.m. and our minds and bodies have adjusted,” said Venit, who tries to limit his Facebooking to an hour a day. “It can be good or evil. It has the power to overthrow governments. They’re saying Obama will raise a billion dollars using the Internet and probably Facebook. You couldn’t do that 10 years ago.”

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