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If you’re not on Facebook, you should be

“Where do you find the time?” That was the question one of my fellow reporters posed to me after I briefly explained how to use Facebook to him and a few of the editors. That’s right. I had to explain how to use Facebook.

But why should they, or anyone over the age of about 25, care? Well, it’s an invaluable tool in trying to understand the interests and interactions of my generation. And by my generation I mean anyone under the age of about 25.

Recently a student at Purdue, which is in West Lafayette, disappeared from a fraternity party. Since then, we’ve been following the story down all its different paths.

One of those paths I discovered the first day after he was reported missing. When I got home from work, I sat down to check my e-mail and see the latest happenings with my friends on Facebook. Out of curiousity, I plugged the missing student’s name in to see if he had a facebook profile. He did, but because I’m not in the network I couldn’t see it. BUT, I could see that his roommate had created a group asking to HELP FIND WADE STEFFEY.

When I first noticed it, the group had fewer than 1,000 members. By about 7 p.m. that night it had shot up to 1,200. I sent a note to my editors saying this was something I’d never seen before and worth checking into for sources, tips, etc. Currently, the group hovers around 6,000 members. All for one missing student.

Those 6,000 members have been actively posting everything from photos taken the night he disappeared, to missing person fliers to hang up and hand out, to the latest news and speculation. Students that first weekend even organized a huge group to travel from his hometown to the university to hold a prayer vigil and aid in a mass search. The university’s police and spokeswoman have even joined in, mining the group for tips, ideas and volunteers. Today, we ran a story about how Facebook has helped in the search.

My point isn’t so much about this one situation. I only use it to illustrate the point most college journalists already know: Facebook is an invaluable source. Millions of kids willingly post information about themselves, their friends and their interests. Too often we hear about Facebook getting people in trouble, as with the recent racist parties which drew attention after pictures ended up on the site. But trust me, it isn’t all bad.

At the Stater, whenever we had a student injured, killed or missing, Facebook was always the first place we went. It was second nature for us to look there, and it should be for anyone writing about students. It gave us a quick glimpse of who that student was. In one instance, I remember finding the MySpace page of a girl killed by a drunk driver through her Facebook profile. The last post she’d made on that blog was a list of things to achieve in life. It broke my heart and humanized her in a way we never could have. Without sites like Facebook and MySpace, we never could have known about her dreams or found her best friend.

Facebook used to be the exclusive playground of college students lucky enough to have the free time and the .edu e-mail address. Not any longer. You, too, Mr. Anonymous journalist can (and should) join the fun. If you don’t know how, there’s a quick tutorial I had to write to accompany the original story about the Steffey Facebook group. When my editor suggested I write it I laughed. (I may have offended him?) But I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing because although I hadn’t been there a week, I was teaching the “old dogs” new tricks.

3 Responses to “If you’re not on Facebook, you should be”

  1. Jaclyn Says:

    Brilliant, my dear. Way to make a fabulous first impression. By the way, I love your site.

  2. CampusByline.com » Blog Archive » Leftovers: 02-06-07 Says:

    […] + Thanks to Meranda Writes for linking to us. Clever name. + We don’t want to brag, but we blogged about the Girls of Engineering calendar all of nearly 8 hours before Paper Trail did. That’ll always make you feel good. + Blogging Illini details the sorrowful tale of the Illini Hockey loss to Ohio. + A follow-up from the Badger Herald on the Clemson blackface party. […]

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