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Szymanski: Just like people, there's good and bad when it comes to Facebook

Szymanski: Just like people, there's good and bad when it comes to Facebook
After a Facebook post about her grandson's bike being stolen helped him get the bike back, Lois Szymanski writes that Facebook is what you make of it. (Courtesy photo)

Not long ago a friend of mine was ranting about social media.

“Facebook does nothing but cause problems,” he said. “People need to get off there and get back to the real world!”

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My response is that Facebook can be just as good as it is bad. It’s all in how you use it.

This past Christmas, my then 12-year-old grandson wanted only one thing, but the fancy trick bike he wrote on his list came with a big price tag, well over $350. My daughter debated for a long time. $350 is a lot of money, but it was the only thing he wanted. Finally, she broke down and bought the bike. He was ecstatic.Then, in late May, while he was eating dinner, someone stole the bike out of his front yard.

The Littlestown (Pennsylvania) police came, offering little hope of ever recovering the bike. No one in the neighborhood had seen a thing. Maybe the neighbor’s surveillance camera picked something up, the policeman offered.

My heart broke for him, because that bike meant a lot to him. Right away, I asked him to message me a photo of his bike and he did. I put the photo up on Facebook.

“Humans can be a horrid species,” I wrote under the photo and then I shared his story.

“We see and hear all the bad stuff about social media,” I continued. “Now, let’s turn it around and into something good. Littlestown residents and those in surrounding areas, please share this photo and if anyone sees a kid or adult who just showed up with a bike that looks like this (a GT Performer) please message me. The police have been notified and they have a photo of the bike and its model number. It sure would be nice if my grandson could have his Christmas present back.”

I posted my note on Tuesday night. My daughter thought I was wasting my time, but she changed her mind when the police knocked on the front door on Thursday morning, Matthew’s bike in tow.

“Someone on Facebook saw the bike and called us,” they told my daughter and son-in-law.

The post had been shared nearly 100 times. I read note after note, many looking like this — “Sharing in Taneytown,” someone wrote. “Sharing in Hanover, PA,” “Sharing in Westminster, MD,” and “Sharing in Littlestown.”

Then, I got a message from someone in Littlestown.

“Please call me,” she wrote, listing her phone number.

When I called, I learned that this was the lady who had turned the bike over to the police. Sadly, it had been stolen by her grandson. During our long conversation, a wave of sadness washed over me. I felt for this strong woman whose character had shown through in the toughest of times. Her teenage grandson had been kicked out of multiple schools, was using drugs and had ultimately been kicked out of the homes of both his mother and stepfather, and his father and stepmother. When she learned he was living on the street, the grandmother had taken him in, but he was too much for her and her husband to handle. Soon, she told me, he will be on the street again.

Suddenly, the loss of a bicycle seemed small. Then the grandmother told me how her grandson previously could not get help from the state or county. Now that he had been charged with a crime, he could. Maybe, I thought, the universe will come together in a way that finds help for this child as well.

Facebook has its problems, but I think most of it is brought on by improper use. People need to study their privacy settings and make sure they meet the needs of their families. They need accept only friends they know — or at least know of — and block those who would clearly not be allowed into their homes. Gravitate toward educational posts or posts that follow your interests. Post only positive stuff and steer away from the negative. Social media can be very useful, if handled well.

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Facebook has its share of critics, but we can’t deny that it has connected over a billion people around the world. Networking opportunities exploded when Facebook came on the scene. One Facebook user wrote about how his son knew exactly what to expect in his freshman year of college because he has spent the summer messaging students at the institution, learning when his schedules would be released and what his specific professors expected.

Years ago, when I worked with a photographer in New York on one of my Chincoteague Pony books, we utilized a private photo album on Facebook. I’d post pieces of text and she would load suggested photos. Only our names were on these albums, so we were the only ones able to view the information, making it easy to work together even though we were miles apart.

My favorite Facebook success story just happened in 2017. It came out of Knoxville, Tennessee. In a Facebook post, parent, Kimberly Jones recorded and then posted video of her son, Keaton, telling her about how he was bullied at school. It was painful to hear this young boy share how the kids made fun of his nose, called him ugly, poured milk on him at lunch and put ham down his clothes. In the recording, this young man turned to his mom’s cell phone camera and had the presence of mind to offer advice to other bullied kids. “If you are made fun of, just don't — don't let it bother you. Stay strong I guess," he said.

The post went up at the start of a weekend. By the time Keaton went back to school on Monday it had been viewed more than 20 million times. People reached out to him, writing encouraging messages. Parents and other kids and even actors and sports heroes wrote. Actor, Mark Ruffalo invited Keaton to be his guest at the premier of his next movie, “Infinity War.”

Ruffalo wrote, “I think you are about one of the coolest kids I have ever seen! Can’t wait to meet you in person, pal. Forget those ignorant kids. One day, very soon, they are going to feel pretty stupid for this.”

And just like that, everyone wanted to be friends with Keaton.

Facebook is just like humankind. There are good parts and there are bad parts. The saying, “Life is what you make it,” rings true once more. In the same fashion, Facebook is what you make it. Let’s gravitate away from the bad and work together to make it all good.

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