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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Facebook v. journalistic integrity

Posted 4/18/17 (Tue)

There’s been a lot of talk about Facebook lately and how it helps us “communicate.” We use it for just about everything except combining grain.

And honestly, that should be a red flag to a lot of people. Facebook is being used for way more than it was ever intended.

Granted, it is a good communication tool. I use it occasionally to locate people for my job. It’s a good way to keep in contact with friends who have moved away and it kind of replaces that “social page” in the local newspaper. But not everyone uses Facebook.

But since the first of the year, I’ve noted numerous people and businesses using Facebook for advertising.

That’s how newspapers, radio stations and TV stations survive, by advertising revenue, and to see Facebook chiseling away at that is detrimental to journalism.

From the seller’s point of view, it’s free so why not? If you’re selling a woodchipper or something, you can take pictures of it, post it and post the price. Wala! Done with no cost to you.

However, there is a bigger picture that apparently few people consider. That woodchipper ad would have cost maybe $25 in this newspaper or several others. It’s a piece of our puzzle that disappears to the Internet. Once is a minimal loss of ad revenue, but done 10 times or 100 times, it creates a serious hole in ad revenue for media.

Facebook is also being used to disseminate news content, I’ve done it myself. But herein lies the problem with that.

As mentioned in a previous column, too many people are posting “news” sources that don’t actually exist. Somebody makes them up and often times because these reports are so fantastic, people tend to believe it, then respond to it.

Consider it like the experiment in elementary school where students are lined up in a row. The teacher whispers in your ear and you do the same to the next person. By the time it gets to the end of the line, it’s a completely different story.

That’s what’s happening with Facebook. Who wrote it, where is their office, what if I have an issue with a report? Let’s say we see an article that suggests the moon landing in 1969 was staged in a Pasadena, Calif., lab. There isn’t anybody who is held accountable and if you try to pin it on somebody, they’ll either deny it or refer you to somebody else who refers you to somebody else.

With a newspaper, radio or TV station, that isn’t going to happen. If there is a mistake, we print a correction, if somebody has a beef with an article, we listen. We also listen when people make suggestions about news coverage.

We have accountability and integrity, Facebook may not. It just depends. You have to figure it out.

There’s also the paranoia that people feel when we publish or attempt to publish something that might be embarrassing to some.

We’re most often denied an interview, yet those same people will post numerous photos on Facebook of the same situation.

I don’t think they realize that information could go anywhere. Just because a person has 300 Facebook friends, doesn’t mean it stops there. Somebody in South Africa or Denmark could see that information and use it against you since they are outside the United States and not subject to American jurisdiction. The mentality of this should be exactly the opposite.

Most recently, a municipal court in Thunder Bay, Ontario, population 110,000, has announced using Facebook for court proceedings and narratives of said proceedings are posted on Facebook.

Reporters made an attempt to contact the administrator and it was denied repeatedly. Nor was the administrator’s name made available.

It sets a dangerous precedent in Canadian law because someone could have an ax to grind and by refusing to reveal who they are, they can easily influence a judge.

Again, like the embarrassing story, we are often denied police reports or medical information, but yet there it is on Facebook. I’ve seen it numerous times and it’s very frustrating.

I refuse to rely on Facebook for “news” tips. I see it like a rumor on the street, I will try to independently verify it. If not, it’s dead in the water as far as I’m concerned.

Before you consider putting something damaging or of value on Facebook, consider seriously what you are doing before doing it.

A newspaper has a local store front, has employees and those ads pay salaries, which in turn produce other purchases in the community. With Facebook, any revenue is funneled into an office in Menlo Park, Calif.