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