ELi paused posting to Facebook in late June for a number of reasons. We subsequently developed a survey to obtain readers’ input on that decision. We thank the 256 of you who took the survey! Today we bring you the results.
The bottom line: Although our own website stats are somewhat ambiguous with regard to whether we’ve lost readership by not posting to Facebook, we are hearing from readers who are Facebook users that the majority want us to start posting articles again. So we started again today.
Here’s some of what we have learned from you:
A lot of you said you are willing to take a few steps at Facebook to make sure Facebook shows you our posts.
This is how the survey response to that question looks:
Now please do it! For step-by-step instructions on how to make sure Facebook is showing you our posts and not deciding for you which you see, go here.
Do it right now! Then come back and read the rest of this if you like.
About 71% of the people who took the survey say they are reading ELi less or not at all since we stopped posting new reports there.
Here’s how your self-report on that question looks:
While dealing with Facebook is in some ways counter to our mission – in using it, we are participating in a platform that often promotes misinformation – getting news to you is the reason we exist.
People really miss the chance to interact in comments at our page.
Another reason we exist is to promote civic engagement. While sometimes the comments do the opposite – promote civil divisions – many of you say you find that forum extremely useful to your lives, particularly during the pandemic.
Here’s a representative comment:
“I deeply appreciate that you monitor Facebook comments and that ELi’s Facebook posts are an online community gathering of sorts. I follow ELi regardless, but seeing my neighbor’s reactions and questions on news adds to the engagement. I miss being able to chat at East Lansing’s digital water-cooler. Because you monitor and because the conversation stems from quality news, the conversation is more robust than Nextdoor (which I won’t join.)”
By contrast, another respondent wrote, “I enjoy ELi more without the bickering that accompanied the Facebook posts. There were a lot of frequent posters who usually didn’t read the whole article and were just posting to stir the pot.”
Said another, “I must admit that I miss the comments section of ELi’s Facebook posts. Obviously they sometimes went off the rails, but there was some good conversation/information to be gleaned from time to time.”
And another: “Please come back to [Facebook]. I find the comments section interesting and I want to hear how people in my community are reacting to the news. I also want to be able to post my own comment. ‘Letters to the editor’ has been replaced by comments sections now, and I have always read the letters to the editor with much curiosity. I am sad that we can’t do something like this on ELi anymore. It feels too one-sided when you can’t read any community reaction to news.”
One thing we want to make clear: We do not suppress speech in the comments. We do monitor for the distribution of misinformation and work on correcting that. We also monitor comments and DM’s to watch for people who are sending questions or corrections. (Thank you for those!)
Only on very rare occasions does one of our monitors “hide” or “delete” a comment, as when there is a direct ad hominem attack against another commenter.
A majority of you are not signed up for any of our mailers.
Here’s how that looks in terms of self-reported participation:
What we heard a lot in response to this question is that some of you just don’t like getting more email. Others tell us our mailers may end up in spam or a “promotions” box that they don’t look at. Some told us they just don’t know how to sign up. (Here’s how!)
We do want to encourage you, nevertheless, to sign up specifically for our new Chatty Mailer. People who are signed up for it are loving it based on the stats, and we are loving having that as a means to push out an inside look at bringing you East Lansing’s news!
Respondents were split on the question of what to pay in terms of ELi’s work at Facebook.
There are two direct costs potentially associated with ELi posting to Facebook: one is paying for ELi staff to monitor the comments and DMs; the other is paying Facebook to “boost” posts – to push them out to more readers (at least in theory).
Wrote one respondent, “You don’t need Facebook at all. Build your own network, build up your newsletter. Do not give Facebook a penny and do not waste your time there. I stopped donating because I don’t want Facebook to get money. RSS is also an option for subscribing to ELI.”
We heard this from more than one donor – that they don’t want to give to us if we are on Facebook. But we have heard from other donors that they won’t donate to us if they can’t find us on Facebook. We can’t operate without donations, so this is tough.
Here’s what another said: “Maintain a presence on the platform but invest no money. The amount of misinformation on FB is alarming yet truthful sources should maintain a presence. But pressure should be applied to force the company to improve standards.”
The problem with “be on Facebook but invest no money” is that we risk becoming a nexus for misinformation in the comments section. That’s why we need monitors.
In our survey, about 38% said we should pay our own staff for monitoring but not pay Facebook boosting, 29% were not sure, 24% said we should not post to Facebook if there are any costs, and 9% weren’t sure what to respond. Here’s how that looks:
Here’s what we’re going to do: We are not going to pay Facebook for boosting. This is all the more reason we really need you to follow a series of simple steps to get Facebook to show you our posts.
We are budgeting $300/month for our staff to do monitoring. You can help us pay for that by making a donation to ELi.
Our respondents have mixed feelings about our participation in Facebook’s methodology.
We wrote: “One thing ELi’s management has struggled with is the ethics of having our news posts used as ‘bait’ for Facebook to ‘fish’ for your personal information, particularly when we know that information may then be used by other parties to push false partisan ‘information’ at you. How do you feel about ELi – your nonpartisan, nonprofit, local public news service – being part of Facebook’s methodology?”
A lot of our respondents said something like, “What can you do?” and suggested we keep posting our news there, because that is where they look for news of East Lansing.
Here are some other comments from that part of the survey:
- “Zuckerberg’s refusal to stop misinformation & political lies bothers me a lot.”
- “I don’t love it but I also don’t know of a way around it. I very much appreciate how much you all care about this though.”
- “It’s on me to be informed with what I read.”
- “Hate it, but it’s the world we live in.”
One comment we found interesting was this one: “I’d rather you not use Facebook. Avoiding Facebook makes me feel better about myself.”
Some people still don’t know East Lansing Info’s primary product is a news website located at eastlansinginfo.news!
It appears there are a few people whose lives so revolve around Facebook that they think we just have a page at Facebook. As a consequence, when we stopped posting new reports to Facebook, they thought we stopped providing our news service.
Some of you know we are a news website but just don’t check it. Sample survey comment on that: “I never think to find you on the website.” Another: “I would read ELi articles as they came across my newsfeed – I have not been seeking them out independently.”
We’re going to try to take up the habit of once a week reminding you at Facebook to look at the front page of eastlansinginfo.news. We are doing this in part because Facebook continues to filter what you see of our work.
We heard a lot of love in your responses. And we’re grateful.
Here’s what some of you said:
- “You guys hang in there! You are doing very necessary work, and I support you.”
- “You all are doing an amazing job!!”
- “Thank you for your tireless work! You are appreciated.”
- “East Lansing is a hot mess. We need you.”
- “I appreciate the quantity and quality of ELi and donate a recurring monthly amount. Thank you for actual journalistic writing.”
- “I appreciate your insightful and intelligent news coverage.”
And here’s one we really appreciated:
“I think the prevalence of misinformation circulating on Facebook makes it that much more important for organizations like yours to put your message on social media platforms. If I want partisan news, I know exactly where to go to find it. But when I want to read factual, neutral information about what’s happening in my community, I had no idea where to look until I found ELi.”
Here’s one more relevant bit of data:
Hey! ELi survives because readers donate to keep the news here coming!
If you’d like to set up a monthly donation, just click here and follow the steps. If you’d like to make a one-time donation, we have lots of ways you can do that! Click here. If you’re already one of our 700+ donors, thank you so much!
We believe in transparency in our public service. So, you can see the full results of our survey for yourself here.
Only ELi brings our community this kind of vital reporting. A quick donation will keep this important public news service coming!