Facebook is teetering now

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Posted 3/27/18 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

I have been one of Facebook’s biggest critics, yet I spend a lot of time on Facebook.
Recently, I had an experience in which I facilitated a group discussion, in Watford City, about what makes good government. It was so refreshing!
I realized, near the end of the program, how nice it was to have had a polite and constructive discourse with other real humans -- not the virtual humans who slash and burn with rude comments on Facebook.
As I remarked on that, and saw the somewhat bemused reactions of the people in the audience, I realized that perhaps I have been spending way more time on Facebook than those in the audience.
In recent days I’ve even had a discussion on Facebook with someone using the name and face of a dead man! I called out the perpetrator multiple times, meanwhile, others involved in the same string of discussion didn’t care who it was hiding behind this mask as long as the information was good. How can you know the information is good when you don’t know the motives of the person sharing it? It boggles my mind.
Yet, I continue to wade into this cesspool multiple times daily -- calling out falsehoods where I see them, liking things that are thought-provoking, sharing birthday greetings and what have you.
I bet I’ve written more about the perils of Facebook in the past few years than on any other subject!
It’s kind of a conundrum for me, as a newspaper publisher and a news junkie, in general.
Here I am with my trusty phone at hand at literally all times of the day and night -- providing a wealth of information about my community, nearby individuals and local businesses. 
Trouble is, too often I learn of things that used to be in the newspaper and aren’t, or things that really do need to be in the newspaper and aren’t.
Facebook is free. Newspaper ads cost money. I get it.
I found myself telling an advertiser just last week that if they feel they can get the same results without newspaper advertising, go for it. But in the same conversation, the group would also like to have a news article, and there’s the rub: though we don’t expect to be paid for news stories, it’s the advertising that pays for the reporter who tells the story.
Newspapers provide so much more than advertising in any community -- from holding local political leaders to account to sharing the awards and accolades collected by local youth.
If you’re reading this, I am preaching to the choir, yet I persist, because if people can choose to forgo newspaper advertising for their event or business one at a time, they surely can be convinced one at a time that they risk losing something priceless if the newspaper isn’t here.
And there are many people in the community who do not use Facebook at all. With the reality that Facebook has exposed all of us to the digital equivalent of an STD,  there’s also a glimmer of a possible alternate future in which Facebook does not take over the entire universe.
The news last week that the data of more than 50 million users could have been co-opted by the Trump campaign to try to influence the 2016 election actually has some people talking about deleting their Facebook accounts.
While I doubt the movement will gain much momentum, it’s at least an indication that more  people are realizing this tool that in many ways connects us also has the potential to cause us harm.
Just as radio and television didn’t destroy newspapers, I am beginning to believe Facebook can’t kill newspapers either. Besides, without newspapers, there’d be a lot less on there to read!