From the Publisher’s Desk: How do you ‘like’ Facebook now?

In past columns, I have lamented the financial impact that Facebook has wrought on the local news ecosystem. But what about the social and civic impacts?

On the money side, the statistics are sobering. The total estimated advertising revenue for the U.S. newspaper industry in 2020 was $8.8 billion, down 29% from 2019. Facebook’s worldwide advertising revenue in 2020, by contrast, was $84.2 billion, up 21% from 2019.

On Monday, Facebook and Instagram went down for more than six hours. That outage gave me pause for a few reasons, but there’s one in particular that I want to share with readers — the increasing practice of local governments, from cities to school districts, relying on Facebook to publicize their events.

Here’s one immediate example: Today, Oct. 5, I learned from a reader that Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson presented his budget address via Zoom at 4 p.m. Oct. 4. (In the past, these addresses have been delivered as part of a city council meeting so had built-in public access.) I did not recceive a news release in advance alerting me to this event, so I could 1) tell our readers and 2) watch the event live and present a report of the mayor’s proposal. (The Zoom recording of the mayor’s address has now been uploaded to the city’s website, and you can watch it here.)

I know that the City of Edmonds (along with other government entities, including the Edmonds School District) in recent years has increasingly relied on reaching the public by posting events to Facebook. In fact, when I checked the City of Edmonds Facebook page this morning, I found that publicity about the mayor’s address had been posted there at 9:18 a.m. Friday, Oct. 1:

How much engagement did that get? I have no idea, other than the three “likes” it received.

I did ask the city’s public information officer how the event was publicized and she confirmed Tuesday that the event was announced on Facebook. “And with Facebook down all day yesterday, we weren’t able to do subsequent announcements or ask local media to post on their Facebook pages.”

So what happens when you don’t control the platform and Facebook goes down? Is it OK for city government to rely on one method for publicizing an event as important as the mayor’s proposed city budget?

I will admit, I spend as little time on Facebook as possible, so it’s easy for me to “miss” a government posting. But what about those residents who don’t have access to Facebook, either by choice or by circumstance (no internet acess, working to take care of their families or experiencing language barriers, to name a few)? How is that practice transparent or equitable?

And now, we are also learning, from a Facebook whistleblower (see details in this AP story), about the ways that Facebook and Instagram “harm children and fuel polarization in the U.S. while its executives refuse to make changes because they elevate profits over safety.”

I have openly admitted that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. For me, it has been a “necessary evil” that has helped drive traffic to our website, although it’s been impossible to keep up with the constantly changing algorithms that determine what our Facebook page followers see. (Those algorithms were also cited by the whistleblower in her testimony, noting that a 2018 change to Facebook’s content flow “contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together,” the AP story said.)

Will this latest bad publicity force Facebook to change its ways? The company has been taken to task before, with no apparent shift in behavior, so who knows? But there’s one thing I do know: It’s not transparent or good practice for public agencies to only publicize their events on Facebook.

I want to add one more important thought: The role of daylighting these types of issues is what local journalism is all about — and it does cost money to do that. We have writers, photographers, designers and technical support people that we pay every month to bring you the news. Unlike Facebook, we don’t generate billions of dollars in advertising revenue but we do have many loyal advertisers who support us — so please support them. And a reminder that in addition to advertising, we rely on our readers to support our work through their regular donations of any amount. You can support us here.

Until next time.

Teresa Wippel, Publisher

 

 

  1. Agree with everything you have written above. I have been concerned about all of this. FB is not a reliable or as you said available for everyone. I find it difficult to access info as I am not a computer expert not even close…So I think if I am this bad what must this be like for others who as you say don’t speak the languages needed. I’ve seen this before. These meetings during working hours for our citizens…generally at work you are unable to sit and watch a Zoom in the middle of the afternoon. I think these times are chosen on purpose. I don’t think our city government really wants our Edmonds Citizens to know much of anything they are doing. But they know they have to give us something. I also think that candidates running for office here in November get unfair representation by allowing them to use FB as their way of dazzling the public. The better you are it seems at using FB the more advertising for your campaign you get. The others who may be a bit older or just not into this so didn’t learn it are not able to use this as a tool to win an election. Its ok to do as you have done. I am talking about personal FB accounts groups after groups…plotting and planning behind the backs of others. IT should not be allowed to use you FB page as a way to get votes. I have been noticing quite a bit. Those should be in the newspaper, in TV ads that they pay for. Or in person as many of our candidates have done. I watched the testimony today about the FB situation on the ABC news live. I am like you in that I don’t use FB that much. But here Edm. I am forced to use FB. Why can’t we use the channel 21 to also announce a couple of days in advance when these meetings of council will be held. Time and all info.

  2. Nicely written, agree with everything said. If one is not on Facebook the important meeting was most likely missed. Never heard about it or saw it either.

    1. Thanks for a great article. I have rarely used Facebook for many of the reasons the whistleblower mentioned. I strongly believe in supporting local media everywhere. If not supported it will disappear and we will be left withFacebook and that ilk. Anyone who reads MEN should financially support it. Please!

  3. I would encourage all of the local non-profit Boards who take advantage of My Edmonds News (MEN) to publicize their events and activities, to budget an annual membership or donation to MEN. We need to support each other.

    1. I remember when my dad sent me emails from Facebook asking me to feed his farm animals.
      I had no clue what it was about. Ultimately Social Media ruined society. I have kids and noticing tiktok is sexual enough that an adult would go to jail for having it on their phone.

      Support MEN

  4. Teresa, the service that the My Edmonds News team and you personally perform for our city are invaluable for preserving our democratic form of government. I presently support My Edmonds News at $5/month a month and will always try to place advertising with your company through my business whenever I have advertising needs.

    I know that My Edmonds News is a labor of love for you, and I just want to give you kudos. Thank you, Teresa, for providing independent, local journalism free to local consumers who may not be able to pay to bypass a paywall and access information about current events. You are an important check and balance on the power of local government and the local business community. Honest journalism keeps everyone honest.

  5. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, TikTok, Vine: All of these platforms are harmful to children and teens. The content that is allowed oversexualizes our kids. They also allow the worst kind of bullying. And all the while, our kids are addicted to their phones. None of this is healthy. I read a report that indicated that the majority of Gen Z suffers from Anxiety. Because of social media. We are all working hard on being careful with our speech to make sure that we don’t offend, even without meaning to, any ethnic or sexual group. Which is a right thing. And yet, in complete contradiction to that, kids (and adults) have the means to destroy one another, emotionally, on all of these platforms. And believe me, they do it. The teenage years have always been fraught with insecurity. Now, thanks to social media, more kids than ever are suffering from mental illness and committing suicide. When will Facebook and all of these other apps take responsibility for the damage to our children they have caused? When will there be consequences for the destruction of the emotional lives of our children? When?

  6. Kindly correct, edit, update this information. It is my understanding that the City has an official policy requiring that at a minimum, notices for municipal meetings, events, etc. are published in the Herald News. I also understand they are to be published in two other local easily, readily available areas for the citizens. One would think, My Edmonds News, would make sense, or at least a Press Release to local parties. Is their some sort of fear of local and regional news?

    It is not only the city’s requirement, but municipalities are held to a standard of publicizing their meetings, events, etc. Citizens have a right to hold the Mayor accountable.

    Thinking of a visit this November,
    Rasmussen@hey.com

  7. Thanks Lori for pointing this out. Short on time this morning, but I will research this issue.

    I do know that our current City Code contains ECC 1.02.060. I think I first made elected officials aware of the problems with ECC 1.02.060 on January 30, 2020. Nothing has been done and ECC 1.02.060 is still part of our City Code.

    ECC 1.02.060 does discuss PUBLICATION of notice so that might provide us a clue about what, if any, public notice was required:

    1.02.060 Mid-biennial budget review and modification.

    A review of the mid-biennial budget shall commence no sooner than eight months after the start nor later than conclusion of the first year of the fiscal biennium. The mayor shall prepare the proposed budget modification and shall provide for publication of notice of hearings consistent with publication of notices for adoption of other city ordinances. Public hearings on the proposed budget modification shall be heard prior to the adoption of the ordinance modifying the biennial budget. At least seven days before said hearings, the mayor shall distribute the proposed budget modification to members of the city council, with copies available to the public at City Hall. [Ord. 3671 § 1, 2007].

    Lori – Ordinance 3793 repealed Ordinance 3592 which had adopted a biennial budget process.

    When Ordinance 3793 was passed, the 2011 Council failed to also repeal Ordinance 3671 which established ECC 1.02.060. As a result, the ECC has been inconsistent and misleading about how often we budget since 2011.

    This is a great example of the problems with the entire City Code, problems that have existed for many, many years.

  8. I do and have for awhile. I will continue to. I support both MEN and The Ed Beacon. Seattle is King County and we take that paper but there is never anything I see about our area…and there never will be. I think the Seattle Times is one if not the worst newspaper I have ever seen. But my husband reads the commentators and opinions. I rarely look at it. Everett has the Herald and I admit I have no idea what it has in it but I would think they are pretty busy with Everett as they have serious problems just as we do. So yes supporting both of our looking glasses into the area is essential for all of us. Party doesn’t matter here… MEN is very good about being Partisan I believe. No judgement from Teresa. News is News I think for her and I admire her very much and all of her team. WE are quite a bunch. ha. So yeah dig into those pockets. It isn’t much and you can give as much or as little as you want. I think on MEN and Beacon if you go monthly you are ranked by your donation but I can assure you that I am a pretty high monthly payer on both and I am here but I am not given any special time for being a larger donor. THAT IS GOOD. I don’t write well enough and I don’t know as much as many I see published. So I am happy to be seen on occasion and have the opportunity to say what is on my mind for our city and our world. ITS so easy to donate. We donate to many many other things that we are directed to as far as locations. Without these papers we would not know where to go or who to call to help others or get help. Look at it that way. Now get your credit cards. Call them. Please.

  9. Ken, Thank you for further looking into public notice requirements. Washington laws may also outline city requirements for municipal publications for citizens.

    1. Posting on behalf of Ken Reidy, who’s having trouble:

      ECC Chapter 1.02 “City Classification” clearly calls for a Mid-Biennial Budget. There is no discussion of ANNUAL budgeting in this critical Chapter of Edmonds City Code (ECC).

      The city has budgeting annually, per Ordinance 3793, since 2011 despite what our Code says.

      RCW 35A.33.055 requires the mayor to submit a budget message as a part of the preliminary budget to the city’s legislative body at least sixty days before the beginning of the city’s next fiscal year.

      That budget message is only a part of the preliminary budget.

      Was Mayor Nelson’s “Budget Address” at 4:30 PM on a Monday afternoon via a Zoom webinar equal to “the mayor’s budget message to the city council”? Or was it something else?

      We discovered during Tuesday night’s Council Meeting that not all councilmembers were aware before the mayor’s Budget Address that he was making a Budget Address.

      Laws or no laws, why give a budget message that so few are aware of, even councilmembers and the local press?

      There was much discussion about the novel idea of a remote budget address a year ago:
      https://myedmondsnews.com/2020/10/mayor-to-deliver-2021-edmonds-budget-message-remotely-oct-5/

      I would hope a mayor who has known that our City Code refers to a Mid-Biennial budget for 20 of the 21 months he has been in office would have tried to fix this before he presented his 2022 budget message to the City Council.

      I imagine Mayor Nelson will argue his “Budget Address” constitutes the budget message required under State Law even though not all members of the legislative body knew about his message before it was made. I imagine he will argue his facebook announcement was all that he needed to do.

      Why not try a little harder? Why go away from what has worked so well in the past?

      Why hasn’t our City Code been fixed so it doesn’t call for a Mid- Biennial budget?

      Will citizens really be listened to during the budget process? If elected officials don’t listen to citizens who point out a huge code error, how can we trust they will listen to and respect our budget comments?

      1. Very interesting. I am going to begin on Monday reading everything I can on this deal…Thanks as always T. Deb.

  10. Just found out that City Staff are now proposing a Change to Biennial Budgeting!

    Proposal being presented to Finance Committee next Tuesday.

    Following is the Background/History put together by City Staff:

    Edmonds Administration and Council have discussed moving from an annual to a biennial budget, and discussions have generally been very favorable for making this change. Doing so will require a Biennial Budget Ordinance to be passed by Council. A draft ordinance is included in your packet. Tonight we would like to discuss this with Finance Committee.

    Staff Recommendation:

    Staff recommends discussing this item tonight, and if Committee members are in favor, that the item be placed on a future agenda for discussion by full Council. Narrative: If the city is to move to a biennial budget for the 2023-2024 biennium, it must so do so by ordinance, and this ordinance must be passed by June 30, 2022. While this seems like a long way off, in fact for the Finance Division the budget preparation process begins very early in the year. In order to properly prepare in 2022, Finance and the Administration needs to know whether to prepare for an annual budget or a biennial budget. There are significant changes that need to be made “behind the scenes” in the financial accounting software that should be done as early as possible. Waiting until 2022 to pass a biennial budget ordinance would put unnecessary pressure on the Finance and IT divisions.

    What next? I wonder if they realize that Ordinance No. 3671 adopting a Mid-Biennial budget was NEVER repealed. I see no mention of Ordinance No. 3671 in the draft Ordinance in the Agenda Packet.

    I emailed Mayor Nelson and full City Council about Ordinance No. 3671 on January 30, 2020. The email subject Title was:

    Re: It is simple: An Ordinance must be followed until it is amended or repealed.

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