Monday, February 8, 2010

Facebook takes freedom of speech to new level

Whoever said social media marketing is so much more than just having a Facebook profile was right.

We’ve reached a point in the Web 2.0 world where being on Facebook is no longer just a fad for college kids. It’s a communication tool that falls between the lines of need and want. In a society where free speech is a birthright, Facebook (and all other social mediums) have taken our deserving ability to share information freely to a new level.

My publication, the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News, recently reported that the city of Aurora has restricted its Facebook fans from commenting or posting their own information on the city’s fan page. According to former Public Information Officer and Facebook page monitor Amy Roth, the decision was legally based following city attorney Alayne Weingartz’s concerns that fans may type libelous or inappropriate information on an official city forum. I wrote and published an editorial in the Beacon similar to this blog post on Feb. 4, and Roth has since resigned from her post with the city. The city's Facebook profile has also since been taken down.

It's relatively easy to weed out bad seeds

As The Beacon-News Facebook fan page moderator, I can philosophically relate to Weingartz’s concerns. At Sun-Times Media (The Beacon-News' umbrella organization), we have had similar discussions about the comments posted on the stories on the Beacon's Web site, and its blogs. But, like with Facebook profiles, we have Web moderators who ensure that any abusive or libelous comments are taken down immediately.

I have to wonder in the case of the city “redesigning” its Facebook profile (which, in all reality, was restricted rather than redesigned), what is the difference now between the city’s Facebook profile and the city’s Web site?

I asked Roth this question and she offered this:
“The one thing that is different is that I try to (provide) news from the school districts, the park district, and if I see something happening in the city of Aurora that I feel citizens would be interested in knowing or attending, then I put it on Facebook as a service to our residents.”

Examples include tax help for seniors, weather updates, park district plays, or students being inducted into the National Honor Society. Roth said none of those items would necessarily be available on the city’s Web site.

Fair enough. It’s definitely still worth being a Facebook fan if you’re looking to get updates about local happenings. But the key to successful social media marketing that many businesses still may not have grasped is that it is also a sounding board for discussion and interaction with your consumers, or in the city’s case, residents. Through open discussion, a publication (or branch of government) can get new ideas, story tips, respond to questions quickly and easily — and so much more. Shutting off that discussion indicates a lack of understanding of Facebook’s audience, and a lack of acceptance that our society has reached a point where people expect to be heard whenever and wherever they want. It also implies a lack of transparency and will inevitably make residents feel as if their leaders are not interested in what they have to say.

Facebook takes freedom of speech to new level - embrace it

No matter the medium — from Letters to the Editor to Facebook comments — there will always be those sour grapes who have nothing nice to say about your publication or your staff. But editors, or moderators, do have the right and ability to take those comments out of the discussion.
Though the city is directing its Facebook fans to an e-mail address to send comments, questions and information, it is frustrating to see the beauty of what Facebook provides — open, free and justifiable discussion in a convenient format — be covered with a black sheet.

To see today’s vocal and interested residents in any city be blocked from airing their thoughts out of fear ... it breaks this journalist’s heart.

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