What Do You Give Up By Leaving Facebook

I’m at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. One of the first panels was titled “Help define the moral imperatives that should be guiding media and platforms’ decisions” and had Jeff Jarvis, raju narisetti, Indira Lakshmi, Maria Ressa and Janine Gibson.

I was going to ask a question, but the QA ran out of time. Luckily, I have the internet and after a quick chat with Jarvis, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to type out the question here and pose it to the panel.

Part of this prologue I also want to use to note that some panelists (#NotAll) had an air of elitism in their approach to the topic. Jeff Jarvis started the panel with a mea culpa that he was “dogmatic” about his belief in the open web for a long time. The mistake, he clarified to me later, was in the “dogmatic” part. He still leans towards an open web. But there were some references to leaving out the “Joe Shmoes” to having vetting processes for who should be trusted, and other comments which just struck me as an overcompensation and part of a potential moral panic.

There was a moment of obvious irony when one panelist suggested there be a body that decides who can really publish and minutes later they lamented the fact that Maria Ressa runs an organization that is threatened by government forces.

This industry goes through pendulum swings. I’ve written about this before and now the swing I described starting in 2016 is in full effect and I expect the overcompensation to begin……..

But to the question!

10 Years ago — Craigslist was the demon of the news industry. There was plenty of hand-wringing. If you had asked 25 year old me: “Which would you rather have, Craigslist or to have newspapers as you know it be financially more healthy” the answer would have been simple. Without hesitation I would have picked Craigslist.

At the time Craigslist was how you found jobs, found apartments, furniture, dates, drugs, etc. It had massive utility.

Today, Facebook has utility too. Mark Zuckerberg’s original line about Facebook was that it was a “social utility.”

So my question would have been: Can you describe the utility of Facebook and if given a magic wand is it something you would be willing to give up (for all of humanity) if it meant news organizations as you know them remain healthy.

I would love for the panelists to think (or maybe even answer via Twitter, if possible) this question.

My Answer

It’s not as straightforward a question as with Craigslist. Again, 25 year old me wouldn’t have hesitated to side with Craigslist. And there are lots of people who are part of #DeleteFacebook that are already speaking loud and clear with their actions.

The MAIN utility of Facebook is the ability to keep connections closer. Fifty years ago if I ran into an old high school friend, we’d make plans to get coffee and there in the course of 2 hours we’d get re-acquainted. Id’ find out about their job, kids, etc. etc. Today, all of that is moot. The pictures were on Facebook. I saw the kids 4th birthday. Congrats!

That feeling of “connection” increases with closer friends and family.

Facebook, of course, is trying to get more utility — a place to post classifieds, for groups, raise money, etc. etc — but everything is built out of this main utility. Facebook is a place to build your online identity and manage your personal relationships. News organizations as we know them don’t do this — so we would be losing something.

It’s a more superficial utility. But it’s not nothing.

I’ll be honest — I don’t know my answer to the second part of this question. Is it better for humanity if we lost the ability to keep these ‘online connections’ but regained a sense of truth/trust/whatever FB is accused of destroying about our Democracy? That I struggle with it though is not a positive sign for Facebook.

Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group. Twitter: @digidave or http://blog.digidave.org Do what I can to help. Also, I love you.

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