What others say: If you aren’t paying, you are the product

  • By East Oregonian editorial
  • Friday, April 6, 2018 12:38pm
  • Opinion

Across the world, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been trending on Twitter, Google and, most ironically, on Facebook itself.

It is in immediate response to the news that Facebook allowed companies to steal data from its users (as many as 50 million), which was then fed to disreputable political groups with the aim to manipulate Facebook users and elections.

Facebook has plenty to answer for in this case. They knew the data was stolen years ago, but told no one — not even those users who had been compromised. They kept it quiet until the story broke publicly.

But the problem is bigger than dumb actions that failed to secure our data. Facebook must also answer for the online atmosphere they have created. Their company culture is to move fast and break things, then go back later to see what they must do to clean up the mess. And that culture has trickled down to the user experience. What used to be an online space for sharing life updates and baby photos has become a space for anger and vitriol, fake news and product placement. Trolls run amok. The most awful responses engender the most responses. It’s a continual loop that builds anger and division.

As a media source with a robust Facebook following, it sometimes feels like we’re feeding the rotten system. We have long ago stopped posting crime stories, where comment sections often spiral out of control, to our page. But we pledge to do more. Or, rather, less.

We know that media has lost a lot of ground to Facebook. We feel it here at the East Oregonian, both in our advertising and newsroom departments.

On the ad side, we know that online advertising is now an $83 billion a year enterprise, but Google and Facebook gobble up almost 60 percent of that pie. Traditional media of all kinds supply the nutrients that the online community feeds on, but the middle men get the bulk of the benefit.

From the news side, more than half of our website visits come to us via Facebook, which means that’s where most of our social media resources are spent. Twitter accounts for little more than 1 percent of our daily visits. (Incidentally, Kathy Aney’s 2015 story about the former Rajneesh camp turned into a Young Life retreat property has been one of our top read stories of the last month. It is linked to the Wikipedia pages of Young Life and the Rajneesh).

We’re not the only ones pulling back on Facebook. Elon Musk, a notable naysayer of Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, shared the #DeleteFacebook hashtag. He deleted the Facebook pages for his many companies, such as Tesla and SpaceX. He said the company gives him “the willies.”

Unfortunately we’re not rich enough to pull off such a brash move, cutting the cord with an important but troubled driver of traffic. But we do plan to reduce our reliance on Facebook as an audience generator. We will limit our posts this week on the site, and post fewer and fewer stories as the weeks go on.

We think it will be better for our bottom line, and also for the mental health of our readers. All our Facebook fans know it is no longer a place to have a civilized discussion. It has been dominated by the loudest, meanest, snarkiest, angriest voices from all sides of the political and social spectrum. And it’s clear that the more time you spend away from Facebook, the happier, more productive, and better informed you are.

But to help support your mental sanity and our bottom line, we’re asking you to visit www.eastoregonian.com more often and sign up for our daily newsletter. Our print readers get all the goodies delivered to their mailbox each day, but others who just scroll on Facebook miss the majority of our work. And if we are posting there less often, we don’t want you to miss even more. In our newspaper and on our website, we hope you find the news you’re after and none of the bullies and trolls you encounter on Facebook.

Of course different opinions will be welcome. Our letters to the editors section remains vibrant both online and in print. Your thoughts are welcome and your feedback on the job we do will always be heard and considered.

But you can rest safe in knowing that you can read and comment on news without anyone sucking up your data, following your every move or harassing you on every post.

Because the crux of being alive in the modern world at this moment is that each time you use Facebook — or for that matter products from Google or Amazon or Apple — you are giving away your personal data. You are giving away a piece of your liberty.

Remember: If you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.

— East Oregonian,

March 27