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My love-hate relationship with Facebook

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 12:17 p.m. CDT

On one hand, I love Facebook. On the other, I loathe it in a way that can only be described as visceral.

I love that Facebook connects me with so many people around the world with whom I can share ideas and friendship. It connects me easily with friends and family in all corners of the planet, and when one of your cousins is a flight surgeon in the Air Force who has been stationed in Korea, Japan and now Germany, that’s most helpful.

I use Facebook to stay connected to the people and issues that matter to me. One could easily argue that’s what social networking was meant to do, even if Facebook wasn’t (at least not at its inception). Given the global reach of Facebook, it is by far the most logical means of staying connected.

But it’s that nearly universal reach of Facebook that at times makes it the bane of my existence.

For example, a few days ago, we had a tragic situation here in Newton. It resulted in police cordoning off a two-block radius around a particular home, which further prompted public concern about what was happening.

So, we did what any self-respecting community news organization would: we called the police and asked what was happening. And, once we were told, we made a decision to post some of the information, but not all of it, in an effort to help clear the area of folks who didn’t need to stand around and gawk at a real-life tragedy in the making.

We made a timeline post to Facebook, which also became a tweet on Twitter, stating the police were there to help someone in need of assistance and to stay clear of the area unless absolutely necessary. Of course, a few curious folks began posting comments, asking what was happening, while others commented on what they thought was happening.

If you follow our Facebook timeline, a word of caution: believe only about half of the comments you see.

Once the commenting began, it took only a few moments for the whole thing to devolve into outright conjecture, speculation, name-calling and worse. In the span it took for me to make the initial post, alert the other members of our leadership team, check in again with police (who had no information they could give us at the time) and return to my office, there was enough garbage — because there’s no other word for some of it — to force me to delete the post.

And, as I was deleting the post, it became apparent the situation had come to its unfortunate conclusion. So, we posted a new comment alerting folks the situation was in hand and the public was no longer in any danger (if it ever was). I also added, “No comments to this posting are necessary.”

Of course, that’s a secret code word for “comment more, please.” Silly me, I should’ve remembered that.

Now, in the commenters’ defense, most of the comments were not the kind of drivel that was being poured on the previous posting. But, when we say, “no comments,” we really mean it. One commenter did question why we hadn’t posted any details of the incident, so I added a comment to the effect that we had no official information from police and that it would be irresponsible to report on an incident we knew nothing about.

We did, however, promise to put the story up on our website as soon as we heard back from police. And we did, which of course resulted in several more “insightful” (or maybe reprehensible would work better) comments.

In all, we banned two people from our Facebook timeline and two from commenting on our website. This would be in accordance with our stated policies that we aren’t going to accept this kind of commentary on our digital platforms.

And, once the day was over, I seriously considered pulling up my resume and adding “adult babysitter” to my list of qualifications.

In all seriousness, though — and I know I’m starting to bludgeon a deceased equine now — we just can’t have that kind of “talk” on our digital platforms. The First Amendment gives you a number of personal liberties, among them a right to responsible free speech.

Sure, you can say whatever you want, but don’t be shocked when someone else thinks you’re stupid for doing so.

We provide our digital platforms as a means to engage with our readers and community. It also affords a moderated forum for open, civil discussion of the issues important to Newton and Jasper County.

But, at the end of the day, it’s our platform, not yours. So, while you’re fully allowed to be as stupid as you want to be, that doesn’t mean we have to facilitate it. You can be as stupid as you like on your own platform.

Just don’t be shocked when there isn’t an audience for your stupidity.

So maybe I don’t loathe Facebook. Perhaps it’s just the inane comments of a very small but very “vocal” minority that make me cringe.

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be reached at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com via email. Common Sense appears each Monday and Wednesday.

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