By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Because I have been known for being long winded in my columns, at least according to my wife, I decided to break concerns I have had with social media down into multiple parts.
Two columns ago I addressed Event Invitation issues which destroys true invites to important professional and personal activities if not seen.
Last week I addressed the potential loss of precious memories / photos if only saving them on a social media platform.
This week I thought I would share why these concerns are front and center for me, specifically battles I have had with both Facebook and Twitter concerning our newspaper accounts which are followed by over 26,000 reader for local news, obits and sports updates.
These two social media platform giants compete with one another but oddly behave similar, neither having any level of reasonable human customer service to assist free and/or paying customers.
META/FACEBOOK BUSINESS PAGE
Several years ago, Meta/Facebook contacted us and arranged a phone meeting to discuss the benefits of boosting our newspaper posts for a wider reach of social media views. They explained that by allocating a budget per post, we could target Facebook users within a 10-mile radius of our villages and increase visibility of our posts. In my opinion, this was a great option. For example, it allowed us to promote festival newspaper posts and attract people to local village gatherings, potentially leading to newspaper sales and/or subscriptions along the way.
For years, we relied on this marketing strategy, and initially, everything went smoothly, yielding the desired results. However, things eventually took a turn for the worse.
When reviewing our newspaper coverage, one of the things I do is compare the current month to the same month in the previous year to assess progress. Every year we work to ensure our coverage is at a higher level than the same time frame a year prior. If a social media post received significant views and generated high interest a year prior, I would consider using that information to provide similar news coverage that resonates with our readers for current coverage.
As I looked back one year, none of the posts we paid to boost appeared anymore. The same was true when I went back two years. I won’t bore you with all the details, but we’ve made considerable efforts to address this issue with Meta/Facebook. It has consumed weeks of my life, and for a small, familyoperated newspaper like ours, the financial impact has been staggering, as it depleted a significant portion of our annual marketing budget.
Our association’s legal advice indicates that we have a strong case if we decide to pursue legal action in a California court. Meta/Facebook sold us a service and then abruptly lost or scrubbed it, refusing to fix the issue. Despite engaging with their support for nine months, including their highest division, we have not achieved any resolution. Their incompetence has resulted in lost value in our news content over this period.
Meta/Facebook has acknowledged laying off their staff, yet they continue to accept payments from businesses without providing support for the services they are selling. Think any other businesses could get away with this? This is not all that different than a customer prepaying for a meal, sitting down and the meal is not delivered and you cannot find an employee to even discuss the matter with. “Sorry about your luck (customer), talk about it with our non human Artificial Intellegience bot”.
Given the exorbitant legal expenses that far exceed any potential damages we could collect, we have not progressed further in the legal matter. Several political offices in the State of Ohio, as well as Washington D.C., from both sides of the aisle, have attempted to assist us. However, it appears to be a losing battle for us at the moment, especially considering the formidable position social media giants hold in court against national governments worldwide.
From a business perspective, it is disheartening that our posts/memories were taken away with-out any explanation. For instance, when one of our student athletes made the gamewinning basket and generated 200 comments, we would like to revisit that post since it is our content. The student and their parent may also wish to do so. Sadly, another cherished memory is lost.
I will keep you updated if there are any developments in this ongoing battle, which has persisted for nine to ten months now.
TWITTER BUSINESS PAGE
You can imagine after fighting with Meta/Facebook how I felt when our sports director sent a screenshot about a month ago showing that our Twitter account was suspended for no reason beyond stating we had committed a violation. Having battled Meta/Facebook for so long I could not fathom a repeat headache.
Twitter made zero explanation as to the violation we were being accused of which was perplexing considering for thirteen years we have simply shared local news, obituary and sports posts – changing absolutely nothing in our process during this time frame.
There was an appeal option which we spent a good amount of time filling out, only to receive what was clearly a Artificial Intelligence and/or auto response brief 1-2 generic sentence response saying we made a violation our account was permanently suspended. Keep in mind if we did do something to violate their terms, there was never a warning or explanation. Over and over again I appealed with the same non human generic auto and/or AI response.
Once again I contacted our political leadership on both sides of the aisle as our local business was being attacked. I will not repeat the stories they shared from similar issues businesses contacting them. They reached out to their contacts at the social media platform giants, no response.
We were down for a little over a week and then as suddenly as our Twitter account was taken down, it was mysteriously returned. Again, no explanation as to why. No communication with our office on our questions and/or to those pretty high in political leadership in Ohio and D.C. who were trying to help us. As fast as our account was taken down, it was returned. At least they told President Trump why they took actions on his account, guess we are not that important, I’m pretty sure we cannot be accussed of “mean tweets”.
I will not spend time going into the hardships this caused our office. I was mostly concerned about our customers not being able to reach us as normal and of course over 13 years having our page used by local readers depending on us via our Twitter account for local news.
Talking to members of our newspaper association, we are not alone. I am aware of another newspaper out West that had their account closed for no reason. Even worse, a newspaper with all their archives, e-editions, etc., which were all stored by Google, yet another large entity, and all their material was taken down for a violation, also with no explanation. They lost everything from a storage service that is not even a social media platform.
Take them to court for this outrage right? Again, figure six figures easily just to get started in that battle, these giant corporation know the little guys cannot compete in the court system thus they are not held accountable.
Remember my column last week warning not to trust these platforms with our previous data/memories, whether professional or personal?
Why am I sharing the battles we have had with these platforms? While they have some great features and can be very useful, I would be weary of putting all our chips in one basket. In a blink of an eye your account can easily be pulled out from underneath you. I feel there is a real danger handing our personal and business lives essentially over to these platforms that have next to no human assistance available. As I said last week, most of us do not heed warnings like I am giving until suddenly the issue circles around and bites back (I’m guilty of this).
I am not suggesting to avoid using social media, it is a great way to communicate. But again, I would have all your photos, memories, etc. backed up.
On a business / organization front I would use social media, but it would not be my “everything”. Use it from the mindset if your account goes down, you can pick up easily and continue on “as is”. I know a lot of local businesses that would probably shut down if their social media account had a hiccup, I hope the moon and stars align up for them and they do not experience what we have twice now within a year. Remember our coverage article within the last year on the Delta Police Department page?
Next week, I will conclude this series of columns on social media. I will provide suggestions on enhancing communication within our small communities. I think local organizations are experiencing a decline in support because social media, despite its convenience, fails to deliver the desired outcomes from institutions such as police departments, churches, and civic clubs. In my opinion, the excessive reliance on social media hinders genuine communication. By incorporating a few additional mouse clicks, these organizations can revert to traditional methods that I believe would be advantageous.
I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or via mail at 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.