ELi Is Taking a Break from Facebook

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

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East Lansing Info (ELi) is going to now follow the lead of other Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) members and take a hiatus from Facebook.

We’re doing this to see if our mission is better fulfilled without us posting ELi’s latest work on ELi’s Facebook page.

The primary reason a number of INN organizations are going off Facebook is that company’s approaches to factual information. Time and again, Facebook’s leaders have talked about taking responsibility for misinformation promulgated via their powerful operation. But time and again, they’ve failed to really attend to the problem.

We share our sister organizations’ concerns, but we have a lot more reasons to consider stopping posting to Facebook. In fact, our own experience with Facebook has led us to consider a hiatus many times since ELi began its work in 2014.

ELi’s mission is to bring important, factually-accurate, nonpartisan news and information about East Lansing without regard to profit.

Facebook’s mission is to profit from people’s “engagement.”

This creates a clash.

Facebook sometimes holds back on spreading our news to our readers – including to the over 6,000 people who have specifically “liked” our page – specifically in an effort to get us to pay Facebook to reach more of our readers. When we publish a story that takes off fast, we get messages from Facebook letting us know our readers are finding something really important, and suggesting we pay Facebook to reach more of them.

If Facebook really cared about local news, as it claims, it would share with our page’s “likers” what clearly matters to our community reader base without making us pay to bring them the news. Instead, it holds our news hostage and asks us for ransom.

Sometimes we do pay – taking dollars we would otherwise use to pay local reporters. So often, Facebook goes on to reject our attempts to amplify the reach of a story because of dumb-bot restrictions.

For example, sometimes when we publish big development stories and try to pay to “boost” them to reach readers, Facebook rejects the boosts saying we might be committing housing discrimination. This happened with our report about the indictment of developer Scott Chappelle.

We’ve gone through so many rounds of Facebook claiming it cares about local news only to find that it blocks important reports we’re trying to share widely with our readers. In 2018, we had to create “Trojan horse” articles to bring you information at Facebook about the income tax proposal on the East Lansing ballot.

Most troubling to us, Facebook uses our readers’ interest in our news reports to obtain personal information about our readers to sell (or accidentally give) that information to organizations that sometimes have anti-democratic, deeply partisan motives – motives which may involve the active pushing of misinformation and disinformation.

We don’t like having our public-service journalism used as bait for enterprises that are directly contrary to our mission.

Facebook also seems to promote habits we find troubling. Again, our mission is to provide meaningful news and information, yet when we post a story to Facebook, many people seem to read only the headline and summary and proceed to comment, leading to threads where people argue unproductively based on inadequate information.

We have had people call us out in Facebook comments for not reporting certain information when in fact we have – in the very article they are commenting on.

This kind of pointless chatter is not our mission.

When ELi was founded in 2014, the goal was explicitly to move away from pointless bickering over East Lansing issues, to move towards the digging up and sharing of important facts.

Yet all the time at Facebook, comment threads mix up facts with fact-resistant opinions. We spend precious time and energy on comment moderation.

It may seem like we put little work into comment moderation because we only “hide” comments that are true ad hominem attacks or that spread dangerous or libelous information. We almost never block someone. 

But the truth is that comment monitoring is taking up enormous amounts of time and energy.

It also sucks our souls. And that stops us from doing the work that really matters. The work we came to do.

The only reason we have not left Facebook is the concern that many of our readers need us there. But they don’t really. They can choose to reach us by visiting our website and by signing up for our mailers.

So, our plan right now is this:

  • We’re going to stop posting new ELi reports to Facebook. (You can, of course, still share ELi reports on your own page, or to a Facebook group.)
  • We will make an exception if there is an emergency that requires us to reach as many people as possible as fast as possible in order to save lives in East Lansing. (And we’ll hope Facebook pushes it out. And we may pay to boost it, and hope the bots don’t stop us.)
  • We will keep an eye on direct messages for tips, corrections, and the like, although you can always reach us, including anonymously, at our contact form.
  • We will continue to post new reports on twitter @eastlansinginfo.
  • We will use the time and money we’ve been spending on Facebook on our mission of producing high quality news and information about East Lansing.

Want to express yourself in a public forum? You can participate in Public Response. You can join your Nextdoor neighborhood chat group. You can talk with people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. You can talk to your neighbors on the phone.

And as always, we want to remind you, you can speak to your government leaders directly.

We welcome your feedback on this decision.

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Read a Your ELi column from 2018 about why we don’t post comments at ELi’s website.

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