Facebook has shut down our newspaper’s page three times since Monday, “for violating the Facebook Terms of Service” according to an anonymous email, likely issued by AI.
This is unusual: Generally, potentially offensive Facebook posts get flagged individually; the page’s owners get a notification about the alert, and there is an appeals process. We know because a year or so back some racists reported our Facebook posts linking to our coverage of white supremacists. In all instances, our posts were restored.
In order for an unceremonious shutdown of a Facebook business page to happen, complaints must come in great numbers, perhaps from different sources but perhaps not — it may be possible for an individual to make enough of a virtual stink to bring down the hammer. It’s all part of Facebook’s mysterious and proprietary algorithm, one that knows when you are in the market for a new pair of shoes, but can’t discern actual, award-winning journalism from Russian propaganda memes.
The irony is particularly delicious.
Without asking anyone, Facebook inserted itself into the online conversation between readers and content creators — that’s us, along with meme creators, TikTok dancers, serial tweeters and the makers of cat videos.
But unlike the cat video folks, who gained access to much wider audiences, for local news the proliferation of Facebook changed the way we interact with our audience. People used to come to a website like ours and hang out for a while, read a few weeks’ worth of stories in one sitting. Some still do. But many — almost half — parachute in to our website from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other aggregators, stick around for a story or two and then split.
At the same time, Facebook has raided the marketing budgets of what were once the most loyal clients of the alternative press, giving nothing back to the community in return except more access to content created by people other than Facebook.
Lately, the company has begun a community-journalism initiative, a grant program that “supports people and organizations aiming to build community through local news.” Their largesse did not include Triad City Beat. And the fund is a fraction of what was taken.
Facebook actually charges businesses to access more than 5 percent of their own audiences at one time. That’s what “boost this post” is all about. Think about that for a minute.
And then, seemingly on a whim — but more likely because a small group of keyboard warriors made us their special project for a couple days — they remove us from the public square that we created.
We’re currently wending our way through the AI web that governs Facebook appeals. And probably, by the time this editorial sees print, we will be back up.
Or maybe not. Like so many other things, Facebook has taken that power away from us, too.