Amid the memes, food shots and political name-calling, can Facebook actually be a venue for ideas? A philosophical musing.

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<p>THINKSTOCK</p>

FOR MANY PEOPLE who are regular users of Facebook, the social network is a convenient way to stay engaged with an extended community online. As a marketing and networking tool, it can be as useful to a musician or a performance artist as it is to a politician. Indeed, Facebook is a great way to promote just about anything. It may even be a little too effective at sharing all those ridiculous memes we really don’t have time to think about.

And yet for all the silly and strange things people push and publish on Facebook, it remains a potentially powerful platform with the power to influence perspectives on everything from global warming to gun control to gay marriage. Facebook is a marketplace of ideas, and like consumers whose buying habits determine which businesses survive, Facebook users have the power to influence our mental environments with what they choose to post, like and share.

While many Facebook users are content to trade in the quotidian fare of vacation photos and amusing images of cats and cute baby animals, there are those who populate their pages with bold social and political commentary.

A friend and consistently thought-provoking local Facebook user named Tori Cautela recently posted her own thoughts on the subject of media coverage of current U.S military activity abroad: “We need to show images of our wars. Most kids of this country have been living in a country at war for all or most of their lives … yet they don’t even realize it or pay any attention. Our news sucks.”

Her statement points out how it’s part of the mainstream culture among young people to be oblivious to the actions of our military in other countries. Knowing about the wars we are fighting should be included on the short list of basics of being a responsible citizen of this country. And her solution is definitely unconventional — not mainstream thinking.

Another local Facebook personality with an unmistakable zeal for uncommon vision and insight is David Anderson. He is a leader in the local tech community as founder of the co-working residence near downtown called Openfire. Anderson gave a “Delivering Happiness Inspire” presentation in which he criticized the tech world for calling an app successful if a million people used it without considering if the app was actually a waste of their time. A status update on his page on Feb.18 starts with his original line: “I hate being busy.” It is followed by a quote from Eknath Easwaran which reads, “Our modern way of life seems to be making us busier and busier about less and less … After we taste the joy of simple living, we realize how all this frantic activity stands between us and fulfillment.” That’s an undervalued sentiment in the dizzying information age.

While some Facebook pages are more heavily trafficked due to their owners’ social status, some Facebook personalities grow in popularity because their insights resonate. A picture of “the best sandwich ever,” eaten by a socialite at a trendy cafe, competes for likes against a morsel of wisdom posted by a relative nobody. Usually the sandwich wins. But sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s reason to be optimistic.

From postings that spark discussions on the horrific phenomena of mass shootings, to statements entreating nuanced examination of political, social and environmental justice issues, Facebook offers its users an opportunity to consider other people’s perspectives expressed sincerely and in their own words. And though controversial discussion threads can become hostile and mean-spirited, there is a built-in pressure by virtue of the public nature of Facebook to avoid embarrassing oneself by coming off as ignorant or hateful.

Taking a shotgun approach to social commentary is the Facebook page of local surf band Thee Swank Bastards. Often raunchy, sometimes humorous and frequently repugnant, Thee Swanks tend to play both sides of a social or political issue in a way that leaves their followers wondering just what their actual position is (insert dirty joke here). Their posts address a wide variety of current socially relevant issues. They have recently included pro-life propaganda alongside posts in support of atheist rights. They also appear to appreciate both hardcore pornography and modern feminism.

Addressing major world religions with an often impressive level of expertise, they promote tolerance of different faiths and rejection of extremism, especially when religious dogma is used to subjugate women.

On March 8 they posted this foreboding prediction: “World War III will be predicated by the tension between political zionism & the Muslim world. World War III is designed to exhaust all nations both physically, economically & spiritually, until the will to fight itself is dead.”

Today, as an interconnected global community, we face unprecedented threats to the quality of life on this planet. Developing new perspectives and finding practical solutions is best approached with an open-source kind of strategy, where ideas are taken in from all directions, even if that means getting them from a raunchy Vegas surf band’s Facebook page.