Reflecting

Why I don’t rely on Facebook (and neither should you)

I write because I want to change things. I want to help make the world better. I want us to hear better stories than the ones we were given, and to develop larger imaginations about what is possible. As a result, the more people who see my writing, the better.

As I’m writing this, on Monday, the 4th of October, 2021, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp are all down, and have been for hours. If I depended on any of these sites to get my message out, to attract customers, to market my services, or to communicate with my base, I would be out of business today.

I have friends who are front-line activists on issues like Healthcare Access, who work against White Supremacy, who fight Fascism on the daily. They have, at times, fell afoul of Facebook’s censors and ended up in Facebook “jail”. If Facebook was their primary method of organizing their base, of communicating their messages, of collecting intelligence, they would be out of business, and the good work they do would go undone.

A few years back, the small nonprofit I ran doubled the number of people who had “liked” our Facebook page, but suddenly we were getting less than 10% of the engagement we formerly did. It seems that Facebook had changed the algorithm, and we would now be charged to get more engagement than the pittance we were allowed for free. Nobody liked it, but what could we do> We had invested years in building that audience, and at the time, it accounted for a huge amount of our fundraising efforts.

The reality is that as long as you rely on other sites to host your content, you are at the whims of those sites to allow you access to their readers. After all, we don’t pay to have a Twitter account, and as the old saying goes, if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. They are, in effect, walled gardens that encourage people to stay on their sites, and discourage people from leaving them.

Platforms like Facebook or Twitter will not give you the tools to defeat or change them them. Instagram harms teen girls. We know this. Facebook and Twitter allowed the spread of ideas that actively put our Democracy in danger back in January, and they choose to allow and even encourage extreme content in the name of “engagement”. They work against the causes folks like me have spent our lives fighting for.

If you are an activist or just someone with a good idea you want to spread, here is what I think you should do to avoid things like the examples I mentioned at the beginning of this post happening to you.

You should have a website. Your most important content should go there. You should have an email list where your most engaged readers can get your posts. You should encourage the use of RSS, which is still incredibly unfiltered and with no gatekeepers. You should then syndicate your content to where your readers currently are, while training them to not rely on those sites for your content. And you should build a robust archive of your own content in places you control.

One way to do that is the strategy I use here, called POSSE: Post Own Site, Share Everywhere.

It’s a simple strategy, with only a few moving parts. I post each post first here, on my own site. I own that content. I run no risk of censorship, no going over my character count, no algorithm that works against me. Theoretically my web host could go down, or my site can crash, but those are minor risks that have happened and I have survived them. And I have backups, and there are lots and lots of web hosts.

As soon as I hit publish, some things happen automatically. The first is that WordPress notifies people by email who follow my blog that there is a new post, and they can read the entirety of that post in their email inbox. Then a link is automatically shared on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter to that blog post. Meanwhile, RSS notifies those who subscribe that way that there is a new post, and the entirety of the post can be read in someone’s RSS reader. (You can find all those methods of subscribing to my writing here.)

Then on Friday of that week, I assemble a list of the posts I wrote that week, and send them out as part of my weekly newsletter – which is emailed to the people who have signed up for it. I control every word that goes in that newsletter.

In short, I control the content, and then I syndicate that content to other platforms – Facebook, Twitter, RSS, my own email newsletter. If one of them goes away, my writing is distributed and easily found. My readers have many different ways to interact with my writing, and many different ways to share it.

Ultimately, my goal is for the things I write to be easily shared, because I want my ideas to effect change, and ideas locked down on one platform, or whose spread is determined by one platform, are dead on arrival.

Your writing, your ideas, your hope for a better world is too valuable to trust to Facebook’s algorithm.

  • Reply
    Marybeth R Ingram
    October 8, 2021 at 10:48 am

    I have a friend, Jim Mulholland, who has a WordPress site and works educating white people on race and racism (https://notetomywhiteself.wordpress.com/note-to-my-white-self/). He’s seen a huge fall-off of site visits and wonders if there’s someone or something behind it. He reports this change and shocking stats in this post: https://notetomywhiteself.wordpress.com/2021/05/23/how-bsmc-is-shutting-down-discussions-on-mscar/.

    Having your own site is a protection but for the average Josephine, it’s a marketing challenge I have little or no energy to take on. FB has troubles, all the SMC do but where else can I easily share content both fun and uplifting, enlightening and challenging, uncomfortable and difficult with my world of friends and family and view theirs too?

    • Reply
      Hugh
      October 8, 2021 at 11:01 am

      I think Jim’s post just reinforces my point. I obviously use FB, and enjoy all the benefits you point out. But I also use it to drive people to my email newsletter, which I control, which I use to drive people to my site, which I also control. Share everything you want on FB – I do – but also use it to build your own list and your own following that you can take with you if FB suddenly decides you no longer fit the sort of content they want to publish.

      It’s also worth noting that the idea that the average person has a platform that cost them nothing and yet reaches worldwide is less than 20 years old. For virtually all of human history, building an audience and platform was work, and cost money. I’m just saying it still does.

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