If you’ve read my weekly column with any regularity, you know how I feel about social media platforms like Facebook. Like the post office and a smart phone, these tech giants serve a purpose in our lives. And like licking too many envelopes or refusing to put down the phone, social media is as dangerous as any drug today.
If you’ve followed the news of the past few weeks, maybe you know Facebook has found itself on the receiving end of an international barrage of fury.
The short version is Facebook takes your personal data – things you like, clothes you buy, dishes you cook, politicians you hate – and they’ve sold that information for billions of dollars. Last year, the company made a profit of more than $16 billion. To put that in perspective, Facebook makes so much money they could buy Fiji, Barbados and St. Lucia. Not once. Every single year they could write a check and buy each of those countries.
How did they get so wealthy? You know the answer. Every time you recommend a perfect recipe, your information is sold to advertisers that market food products. When you ask about the best pediatrician in town, Facebook sells your data to medical companies looking to buy an advertising campaign. If you want to buy a house, every Realtor in the country can easily access your information and target you for advertising. And if you hate a politician, sharing a negative article about that politician, you end up on a list of people who support the other side.
You can’t blame Facebook for being so shrewd, even if they say their only mission is to connect people. You’re the ones who share that information for all the world to see, and if Facebook sells that information – up until now, because Donald Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary – then there’s nothing wrong with it.
While I could list a mile’s worth of faults of Facebook, I don’t blame them for being innovative in their business model. They con you into handing over your information, and then they sell it for a gigantic profit.
No, where I find the most fault in Facebook – and the public’s relentless addiction to it and other social media platforms – is that calling Facebook “media” has become part of our modern lexicon.
I don’t want to sound like your middle school grammar teacher, but think about those two words: “social” and “media.”
Before partisan cable networks and national newspapers threw out all regard for fairness, the news media used to be something you could trust. I never fawned over Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings, but if I turned on their broadcasts a generation ago, at least I thought I’d get some semblance of truth.
Today’s generation has replaced “news media” with “social media,” and the ramifications have been devastating. If you think about those two descriptors, what we’ve done is replaced trained journalists (news) with society (everybody that has a Facebook page).
It’s quite amazing, if you think about it. The people we rely upon to get our information are our friends (social). And when our friends pick which stories to share, they do it hell-bent on convincing you their opinions are right.
The pity of it all is that former “news” media, like our once-proud networks and national newspapers, have been forced to follow the money trail and instead of holding fast to the ideal of reliable information, you get what’s happened to vaunted publications like the Houston Chronicle. I just went to the free edition of Chron.com and these are the headlines on the front page:
“Houston’s best places for ooey, gooey mac’n’cheese.” Now tell me that headline isn’t the step-child of Facebook posts all over the land. It’s the biggest headline on the home page.
Another headline: “Springer, Correa and Altuve talk coffee in H-E-B ad.” What? That’s the top story on the left-hand side of the page. Wonder if H-E-B paid for that plug?
And here’s the best (worst), also on the front page: “Man shot during Facebook Live video on life support.” This happened in Beaumont, so obviously it’s one of the most important stories in Houston.
You can do this exercise with newspapers and TV stations all over America. Go to their websites and look at the stories they promote as the most important.
Social media has ravaged news media, and in the process, we’ve ruined the product that the U.S. Constitution protected with its very First Amendment.
Except media hasn’t been completely ruined, and while it may sound arrogant, newspapers like The Leader still focus on local news and understand the value of news media.
Last year, for the first time ever, we hosted The Leader’s Media Camp, where young people the age of 11-14 attended a week of hands-on learning about real media.
During this camp, we taught the basics of writing and how to report what is told to us, not what we think people want to hear.
We spent an entire day learning how to take great pictures, and the students got hands-on instruction from a guy who has taken pictures for media like the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated.
Another day was spent teaching young people how to use social media – we even brought in a police officer who talked about the dangers that lurk behind every post.
And to cap it off, we spent almost two days learning about television, bringing in a camera crew to video students giving a real news cast.
We’re holding the camp again this year, from July 23-27 at Lutheran High North on 34th Street. We have 50 spots available, and we sold them out last year.
If you’re a parent or a grandparent who would like our youth to understand the real purpose of media, or if you want your children to explore the world of photography or broadcast or print journalism, I can promise there’s no better place than our annual Media Camp.
If you’d like more information, feel free to send me an email at the address below. And we’ll tell you more about it in the week to come right here in The Leader.