From the Publisher’s Desk: Revisiting how we engage with Facebook

Teresa Wippel
Teresa Wippel

For years, I have shared with readers my love-hate relationship with Facebook. Actually, let’s flip that: It’s a hate-love relationship.

To explain, everything we post to our news websites is also posted to Facebook and Twitter. I used to do this posting individually, by hand, and with three community news websites it was fairly time consuming.  So about five years ago I switched to an auto-posting system that sends everything to those platforms automatically as the stories are posted to the websites.

Here’s the problem with that: I’ve become disconnected somewhat from those individual platforms. I moderate diligently the comments on our websites but Facebook in particular has usually been an afterthought. Sometimes readers will alert me to terrible comments, and I’ve done my best to moderate and delete when appropriate. But it’s often a losing battle.

For some items we post to Facebook, that isn’t an issue. But increasingly, it seems that almost everything has become a flashpoint for uncivil behavior, especially on Facebook. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or wearing a mask or the actions of government officials, I am seeing an absolute lack of tolerance for diverse opinions and an increase in the level of venom from Facebook commenters.

I wish I could attribute all of this to Russian bots or fake accounts, but most of these comments come from people living in our communities. And sadly, this is not limited to a political party or point of view. We are so comfortable in our own bubbles that we reinforce each other’s behaviors. She’s wrong. I’m right. You are so right — she is wrong, and you’re right. You’re a racist! You’re anti-Christian! And on and on and on.

I’ve had enough.

Further in this column, I’ll share what my plan is, going forward, to address the issue. But first, let’s take a look at why news organizations like mine engage with these social media platforms. The truth is, for better or worse, many people get their news from what they see on social media. They don’t visit “a website” for news any more than they read “a newspaper.” It’s what shows up on their phone, in their Facebook feed, what their friends share, or what they happen to come across.

When readers click on a link to one of our stories via social media, it increases traffic to our websites. Traffic is an important factor for advertising revenue, and that revenue provides the lion’s share of how we fund our operation– from writers to photographers to marketing to website hosting.

It’s ironic that Facebook has that much influence over media companies’ traffic, because over the years both Facebook and Google have absorbed media companies’ ad revenue too.

I’m not the only one fed up lately with Facebook, of course. Using the hashtag #StopHateforProfit, a civil rights coalition that includes the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the NAACP, launched a campaign last week, asking all businesses “to stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook’s services in July.”

And a number of major companies have been doing just that. For a month, anyway. It would be great if the participating companies — like Starbucks, REI, Denny’s and others who have locations in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace — would send some of that “not going to Facebook” advertising revenue the way of small media companies like mine, too. But that’s a topic for another time.

In the spirit of trying to restore civility and regain control of Facebook on our news pages, here’s my pledge to our readers:

First, I will no longer “auto-post” to Facebook. By curating these posts by hand, it will allow me to be more thoughtful about what shows up on Facebook, I may choose to NOT post something on Facebook at all if I’ve noticed that commenters have in the past been unable to have a civil conversation about a topic.

Second, I will more diligently monitor the social media conversations surrounding our stories — paying particular attention to Facebook. I will no longer just delete offensive comments, I will block commenters altogether. And I won’t hesitate to take an entire post down if it goes south.

Finally, if you’re also fed up with Facebook but still want to see what we post, subscribe to our daily newsletter. It provides a daily roundup of all of the content and photos posted in the past 24 hours. You can subscribe here. It’ll hit your inbox every morning and doesn’t cost a cent.

And speaking of cents (and dollars) — while the daily newsletter is free, we do rely on voluntary reader contributions to help pay the bills. You can support us here.

Until next time,

Teresa Wippel, Publisher

 

24 Replies to “From the Publisher’s Desk: Revisiting how we engage with Facebook”

  1. Thank you Teresa. I whole heartedly support your endeavor to keep your news media honest, accessible and free of false and spiteful comments.

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  2. A huge thanks to you and MEN for your commitment to accurate news and civil discourse. Curating the interface with social media by hand sounds extremely time-consuming. Thanks so much, Theresa, for your commitment to the highest standards of journalism and for giving us such an engaging, user-friendly way to get our local news.

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  3. Thank you, Teresa. As a subscriber, I can attest to the usefulness of the daily newsletter. It’s there every morning, as if the paperboy had thrown it to my porch. Very helpful. And as a monthly supporter, I’m grateful for all your efforts to keep up locally informed.

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  4. Thank you for covering our communities. Your newsletter is my treat before getting up to start my day.

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  5. Thank you Teresa, If more people and companies would push back on Facebook and requires that the enforce their own TOS, it will make a difference. With 2.6 billion users worldwide, quitting Facebook does not have as much of an impact as telling our favorite brands what we think about their presence on a platform that allows antisocial, hatful behavior.

    I hope more people will subscribe to the newsletter. It is among my first reads every day.

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  6. Kudos to you for responsible journalism! May others support your stand by contributing monetarily to The Edmonds News.

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    1. Thank you! Your comments and Observations are Spot on. I appreciate your stance knowing how much more work and energy it will take from your end and you are voluntarily choosing to do this. Thank you again

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  7. Wonderful and Refreshing! We should seek out our news from diverse sources so we learn something new, not have an algorithm tell us what is newsworthy. Social media creates a horribly disgusting echo chamber and appeals to our worst instincts. Thank you, Teresa, for acknowledging the downside of having robots Feed us what is newsworthy with the least amount of effort required. More effort and less Facebook will make us a more informed electorate.

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  8. Thank you for all the energy you put into our reliable news. I look forward to your responsible reporting every morning.

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  9. Thank you for your clear and concise explanation of how Facebook works and your relationship to it and thank you for taking control over what appears as news from MEN.

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  10. I totally agree with others who are supporting what you are doing, Teresa.

    The more pushing away from Facebook, the better. It’s a source of a huge invasion of privacy… more than many Facebook users realize.

    BTW, readers, if you aren’t already a subscriber of My Edmonds News, consider supporting this site by subscribing ….. It’s only $5/month.

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  11. Along with our American values of freedom, equality and justice is our First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech includes the right to say things that other people may find offensive. There is a generally accepted restriction in the media of clearly defined vulgarity and profanity which is accepted by all American media. However, the definition of offensive, hateful speech is often subjective and frequently constitutes comments or opinions made by those with whom we don’t agree. In the case of Facebook there is been much pressure to classify as hate speech comments made by our political opponents. We must be careful not to allow the First Amendment rights of a political party, candidate or any person with whom we don’t agree or support be suppressed because we may consider them offensive.

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    1. Mr. Bernstein, a small reminder here. The First Amendment grant of Free Speech applies to actions of government, not private entities. Private companies like Facebook can set their own standards on what speech to allow on their platforms, without interference from the government. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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  12. As you wrote, Teresa, that is another real time commitment

    Please be sure to allow time for your family and yourself!

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  13. What a refreshing and encouraging move for MEN to make, even though it means more work. Thank you for helping redirect public discourse into the “civil” path.

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  14. Teresa,

    I respect and understand Ms. Wippel’s concerns regarding Facebook. As a financial supporter of MEN, my contribution may not be much. However, I feel better knowing I am contributing to my values. MEN allows me to voice my opinion, even during an anomaly when I took exception to an article. MEN could have chosen not to publish my comment and could have blocked me – could even still; my financial support is not much. However, I greatly believe in Teresa Wippel, her integrity, and her publication. Regarding Facebook, I support Ms. Wippel.

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  15. I am so happy, Teresa, that we have you with your high standards in charge of My Edmonds News. I remember learning about “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. I now realize what that means. Not to squelch what people say but to encourage varying viewpoints. We need to write letters or email our viewpoints and point out where one side is presented but not the other. Thinking truth is on one side, but not the other is destructive. Belittling others’ views discourages honest expression of varying viewpoints. Thanks for what you do to encourage the give and take of opposite viewpoints.

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  16. Take it from this Alaska reader, Teresa, you are doing a fabulous job. I know, it is not easy.

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  17. You have done such an amazing service for Edmonds Teresa, and I commend you for all of your effort and time on this site. I was not aware that you even posted on Facebook until you wrote this article, and I completely understand that the extra time constraint is unsustainable for you.

    However, when possible, I would love for you to continue posting to Facebook when you are able to. The world wide web can be a crazy place, and people can say some shocking things when they are behind the anonymity of a computer screen. However, when sane, rational, and trustworthy news sources retreat, it only makes the situation worse.

    Even when there are outrageous comments, it also gives the opportunity for reasoned comments to reply. Dialogues with people who believe the exact same thing rarely produce new thinking or ideas. Even when those dialogues are contentious, the ability to work together towards a new collective understanding of the world around us is one of the primary strengths of this Country.

    I think that the worst problems that our country faces right now is that people of opposite divides are not meaningfully talking with each other. They are not giving themselves the chance to consider new ideas, or challenge their own viewpoints and biases. Politicians are rarely engaging with the other side on collaborative legislation, and people are even increasingly choosing their relationships based on political ideology.

    As messy as it is, sources like MEN where personal stories of an engaged and caring community are encouraged is what is needed most of all on Facebook right now. Perhaps as is the case with many forums, you could find a few members here who would be willing to help donate their time to help with moderation of the comments to encourage civil discourse.

    In any case, I know that Edmonds deeply and genuinely appreciates all of the time and effort that you have put into MEN.

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  18. Personally I don’t do Facebook or like the concept much. Doesn’t make sense to me to put all that personal information out there and then wonder why you are getting ripped off routinely or verbally assaulted in so many ways. I recently ended up as a FB member in the process of trying to get an Uber ride. Long boring story.

    In terms of MEN, I recently decided to try to be a person who reads and thinks way more in relation to the content, and comment and argue a lot less about the content, keeping comments to a minimum and positive if at all possible. Comments became a negative addiction for me.

    My bottom line, however, is that Teresa and her MEN publication have made this a much better place to live and made Edmond’s politics a much more open book. Something that was sorely needed prior to her coming on the scene. I will continue to support MEN financially as I have the past couple years.

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