This is an astonishing number of fans for a Facebook page sponsored by a nonprofit organization. While the Auschwitz Memorial is a popular historical site (it's visited by over a million people a year) few such entities enjoy such a large online following.
Without social media tools like Facebook it would be difficult to duplicate such an effective social network online. Or looking at it another way: most museums and educational institutions miss out on the opportunity to connect with younger audiences online when they fail to make use of Facebook and other social media destinations.
Facebook is the popular social networking website used by millions to keep in touch with friends and family. Organizations can't open user accounts, but they can build pages that promote their mission. Facebook fans are users who associate with a page to keep in touch and voice their support for the page's creator. In turn, owners of a Facebook page can then communicate more directly with those fans.
The Auschwitz experiment has not been without controversy. The page editors have been monitoring users' postings for inappropriate content, including that from holocaust deniers. Also, they have had to address the issue of making use of a service that allows loosely regulated speech. The Auschwitz owners addressed these concerns in a posting Monday:
"More than 8,000 people of different ages and nationalities have joined our site within the first six days. They use it in a very respectful way. Thank you for your trust. We are moved by all the posts on the wall of the site and the way people respond. And, we are also very pleased with the positive reaction of the media and internet users to our presence on Facebook. It does not mean, however, that if we come to a conclusion that Facebook policy or technical issues put us in a position that is highly contradictory to the memory and respect of the victims of Auschwitz, we will not hesitate to close this site despite such positive response."Despite these challenges, the Auschwitz Memorial Facebook project provides a compelling case for the benefits of social media for museums on the web.