2018-02-04 / Insight

Facebook left a comment, we didn’t like it

Commentary by Wes Smith–Publisher

A lot has happened since I last wrote about social media a month and a half ago. You may recall that was shortly after statements by two former Facebook execs were revealed in which those execs admitted their feelings of guilt over having helped create the social media behemoth.

One of those former execs, Chamath Palihapitiya, told his audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business that he feels “tremendous guilt” about his work at Facebook and, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” He urged his audience to take a “hard break” from social media. “The short-term, dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” he said.

Around that same time, there was also a lot being said about Facebook’s complicity in spreading fake news.

Since then, Facebook co-founder, chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his minions have been working overtime, firing up their PR machine to ensure their billions of users that, although it ain’t their fault, they’re going to make it all better anyway.

Not their fault? That’s right. If your time on Facebook is making you feel bad, it’s your fault because you’re using social media the wrong way. In their blog on Facebook’s newsroom page, David Ginsberg, Director of Research, and Moira Burke, Research Scientist at Facebook, citing others’ research said, “In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.”

Ginsberg and Burke went on say, “On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.”

The always helpful Mr. Zuckerberg was quoted in that same blog as saying, “We want the time people spend on Facebook to encourage meaningful social interactions.”

Excuse me? Does even the most ardent Facebook user think of their time on Facebook as a “meaningful social interaction?” Study after study has shown that anything that goes beyond casual use – more than a few hours per WEEK – of social media is not good. Heavy use of social media is especially dangerous for young, impressionable minds.

A Centers for Disease Control study revealed that from 2010 to 2015 the rate of suicide and severe depression increased by over 30 percent in teens age 13 to 18 – a striking increase. More than 60 percent of the increase occurred in teenage girls.

Another study released by Florida State University showed a strong connection between suicidal thinking and cellphone use, with those who used electronic devices for more than five hours per day showing close to a 50 percent incidence of at least one suicidal behavior. That study’s authors reported that “adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues.”

If you are a parent of teens reading this and a chill did not just run down your spine you’d better check for your own pulse.

Facebook is going to fix fake news, too. They’ve hired hundreds of fact checkers to root out fake news posts. With 1.4 billion users, those fact checkers are going to be very busy.

Mr. Zuckerberg is also promising to bring users more local news. Is Facebook hiring local reporters to cover your school board and zoning board meetings? Naw. They’ll just use others’ content as they’ve always done.

Facebook will not be reporting anything. They say they are "updating News Feed to also prioritize local news so that you can see topics that have a direct impact on you and your community and discover what’s happening in your local area.” They say they will do this by identifying "local publishers as those whose links are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area. If a story is from a publisher in your area, and you either follow the publisher’s Page or your friend shares a story from that outlet, it might show up higher in News Feed.”

From my perspective, this is just another ploy by Facebook to calm the masses and claim they care about the quality of content on their platform.

Facebook continues to use content created by others, including their billions of users, to promote their platform, induce more time spent on their platform and generate more advertising revenue, which, ironically, siphons money away from the same local news providers they pretend to support.

Facebook can be a fun way to keep in touch with family and friends. It can be a useful part of a media mix to promote your business. It can be a way to keep up on local, regional, national and world news… if you can sort the real from the fake.

Facebook CANNOT be a substitute for real live interaction with other people. It CANNOT replace viable advertising media. And it sure as heck CANNOT be a substitute for a local community newspaper with a staff dedicated to reporting the local news in a responsible, credible way, delivering information about local community events and providing a proven advertising medium.

One other thing Facebook does not do. They do not put hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the local economy through paying local employees and paying local taxes. Nor do they contribute hundreds of thousands more in cash donations, in kind advertising and free publicity for local causes.

But we, and thousands of local community newspapers across the country do all those things. And we’ll continue to do those things. That’s no fake.

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