Facebook and Free Speech

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There’s been a lot of talk among some in the media about the suppression of the First Amendment – every American’s right to free speech. Folks like to point to President Trump’s never-ending battle with his major media opponents. You hear a lot about Trump supporters shouting down national media celebrities. You can argue the anti-media crowd is merely exercising its First Amendment right to free speech, but that’s another topic. For all the ink spilled, one thing is certain: merely complaining about the press is a far cry from actually shutting down that press.

There is, however, another national actor that actually is shutting down the free press. And that could be a much bigger problem than the sum of all of President Trump’s tweets.

As of August 1, 2018, Facebook has blocked third-party tools from sharing posts on Facebook Profile pages. Professional journalists regularly use all social media platforms to distribute their content. To accomplish this most efficiently, they often use third-party tools as a one-stop vehicle to post to all their social media accounts simultaneously. It makes life easier. It allows us to exercise our free speech rights.

Lately, Facebook (and to some extent Twitter) has been shutting down our ability to exercise those free speech rights. I realize you can make the argument that Facebook is a private company and can do anything it wants. Indeed, the Supreme Court affirmed Facebook doesn’t have to sell me a cake if it doesn’t want to. But what I’m addressing here is not the letter of the law. Rather, I speak to the spirit of the law, or, more appropriately, the spirit of our constitution.

In the seemingly noble act of becoming a curator of the content that passes through it, Facebook has destroyed the one thing that attracted many to it: the ability to share their thoughts, ideas, and insights. In a sense, in order to prevent anyone from shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, they have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

This hit home most remarkably for both me personally and for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (“NSNC”), the organization in which I currently serve as president. In its July 3, 2018, issue, in conjunction with America’s celebration of its independence, USA Today was kind enough to print my editorial on the role of Revolutionary War pamphleteers in laying the foundation for what eventually became our First Amendment.

This op-ed proved quite popular (judging by the resulting explosion of my Twitter feed). To broaden its reach, the NSNC decided to boost the Facebook post of the article. Facebook rejected this, saying the piece was “political.” We don’t know how they came to that conclusion. Could it have been the word “Revolutionary”? Or maybe “War”? Our able communications officer remedied the situation and Facebook eventually ran the ad. We shrugged it off as an “Oh, well” moment and moved on.

But then August 1st hit. At least one of our members discovered “Facebook took down my column from earlier – including all the shares from my newspaper’s page – saying it violated Community Standards.” I read the column. I’m at a loss to explain how a story about a good Samaritan whose deed was captured by an onlooker in a picture that ended up going viral could violate Facebook’s “Community Standards.” It makes me wonder: Do I want to be part of a community that doesn’t encourage good Samaritanism? (In a delicious irony, the original picture was posted on Facebook.)

If you, like me, are a lover of free speech, then this sort of thing makes you cringe. I’m a good old-fashioned 19th-century liberal. That means, to borrow from William Blackstone’s Commentaries, (“Public Wrongs,” Book IV, Chapter 27, paragraph “Fourthly”), I’d rather see “ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”1 I may not be smart enough to run a billion dollar high tech company, but I know censorship when I see it. I’d much rather have to put up with the propaganda of three dozen fake Facebook accounts than see one innocent columnist’s work stricken from my Facebook feed.

So here’s the advice I offer – free of charge: ditch the computerized algorithms, allow folks the freedom to post any speech they want, and let the buyer beware.

2017 in Review: The (non) Story of the Year

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There’s a common adage among skeptics the world over: “Who watches the watchdog?”

Decades ago I had the honor of serving on the HFL School District’s newly formed “Technology Committee.” This group was tasked with the job of trying to determine the best way to integrate the then new technology of personal computers (and related software) into the learning environment. We quickly saw one of the greatest advantages as the enhanced ability to conduct research from direct sources. Librarians saw this as an opportunity to free up rare shelf space by replacing printed (and quickly outdated) encyclopedias with their digital (and instantly undated) equivalent.

For every upside, however, there’s a glaring downside. In this case, it was the credibility of Continue Reading “2017 in Review: The (non) Story of the Year”

Who Owns Your Data?

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Towards the end of the day, I finally rediscovered how to use Twitter on my Blackberry. Then I discovered I could retweet faster than I could type. Since a lot of 965897_88613402_data_stock_xchng_royalty_free_300folks had similar ideas to mine, retweeting became the most efficient method for me to get those ideas out of my head and into the Twittosphere known as #SMACSRIT.

#SMACSRIT was the hashtag for the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Social Media and Communication Symposium (SMACS) II, a lively, entertaining and enlightening event held on – at least what started out as – a rainy Thursday on September 29, 2011. I could write about each session, but, perhaps bowing to the behavioral phenomenon called “recency” – the tendency to overweight the last thing seen – I’ll focus on the final keynoter, who posed an intriguing question while Continue Reading “Who Owns Your Data?”

The Best Social Media Manual… Ever! A Book Review of David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR

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The_New_Rules_of_Marketing_and_PR_250“What’s the best book I should read to get started with this whole ‘social media’ thing?” When I asked my good friend @mikefixs this question last year, he strongly suggested I read David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR, originally published in 2007 with an updated paperback published in 2009. This may represent one of the best pieces of advice on the subject I’ve ever received.

Why?

To begin, just take a look at the author’s subtitle: “How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing & Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly.” What else can I say except, “It works.”

Here’s how.

Continue Reading “The Best Social Media Manual… Ever! A Book Review of David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR

Day 22 – December 5, 2009 (Sat): Combine Your Social Media Tools

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Start of Day Twitter Stats: Follow: 129 Followers: 110 Listed: 6

Missed yesterday? Go here to read what happened on Day 21 – December 4, 2009 (Fri): Do Some Off-Twitter Marketing

twitter_power_joel_comm_150I must admit, I actually started doing this a few days before in anticipation of robotics consuming my day today. That’s correct, gentle reader, no sooner had I completed one major event, but it was smack dab right into another. Talk about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire!  Come to think of it, fire does have a mesmerizing ability. Perhaps you’d first like a glimpse at the fire before returning to the experiment.

Continue Reading “Day 22 – December 5, 2009 (Sat): Combine Your Social Media Tools”

Back to the Future

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So I says to Mark I says, “Mark, I’ll go but I don’t want to pull in before you. You see, at the risk to confirming stereotypes, I’m a bit of a wallflower when it comes to these things. I could regale an auditorium filled with strangers, but put me in a small reception where I must talk to people face-to-face and I sort of stay to myself, speaking not, unless first spoken to.”

998276_97728952_business_time_royalty_free_stock_xchng_300“When it comes to groups,” I fully confessed, “I have a tough time feeling I really belong.”

Mark reassured me I could arrive after 6:30pm and find him already on hand.

Such was the set-up for attending my first meeting of the Rochester Social Media Club at Label 7 in Pittsford, NY. Funny thing. I discovered something there. Something really surprising.

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A Spoonful of MSG – A Review of Seth Godin’s Tribes

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Somewhere in the middle of Tribes, Seth Godin writes of the blog msg150.com (under the heading “Three Hungry Men and a Tribe,” pages 62-63 in my 2008 Portfolio (Penguin Group) 10th edition). As the author puts it, “This blog is obsessively chronicling every restaurant in a sixteen-block square of Seattle.” Leaving aside the unnecessary use of the passive, let’s focus on the meat of this particular reference. It turns out, most of the restaurants covered by msg150.com carry Asian cuisine. And you know what they say: Chinese food fills you up quickly, but, a half hour later, you’re hungry again.”

I can think of no better epitaph for the book Tribes, the eleventh book by the bestselling author of Purple Cow and The Dip.

Tribes CoverNow, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to disparage the book. Far from it. I consider Tribes a must read for reasons I hope to make clear. More to the point, I’m not going to begrudge someone born five days before me, possibly even in the same hospital. Quite simply, I’m merely going to follow his instructions (“Fear of Failure is Overrated,” pp 46-48) and offer some constructive criticism.

First, if you’re new to the whole Web 2.0 and social media thing, Tribes represents perhaps the easiest entrée into the embracing concept behind this innovative world. It’s easy to read. I finished it in just a few hours despite the many interruptions and distractions of a relatively free Saturday (let’s see, that would include one Boy Scout Training class, Saturday Mass and my daughter’s high school drama production). The book contains very little jargon – or at least very little of the kind of jargon that might scare neophytes away.

Continue Reading “A Spoonful of MSG – A Review of Seth Godin’s Tribes