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Opinion | On Facebook friends and real identities
I’m barely middle aged, but I think I’ve always been old school. I prefer e-mails and phone calls to 140-character texts and Tweets, and books… as books. There’s no replacement for the smell and feel of newsprint and ink.
Consider me a late adopter. It took years for me to get on Facebook. Friends, I reasoned, are the people you spend time with in person, face to face. Digital friends? We have a word for that: Strangers.
Yet eventually I bowed to the inevitable. Turns out I was wrong about Facebook, proven so by the folks I hadn’t thought about in years who ‘friended’ me. We’ve had some pretty deep conversations, all without a spoken word.
Today, I check in on Facebook every day or so, mostly out of a sensed need to stay connected with a different realm of life. Daily routine at a newspaper will put you in contact with so many real people, there’s little need for rapport with digital ones. Yet I catch my wife on her smart phone all the time, catching up with her Facebook friends. For her and so many others, of all ages, social media like Facebook offers a conduit to far-off loved ones. It keeps relationships alive and generates new friendships and connections.
The Valley Record has been on Facebook for a little more than a year. In that time, we’ve watched participation gradually increase on ‘our page.’ I can’t call it ‘my’ page, for the simple reason that it isn’t mine. Scroll down, and you’ll see posts from the new Snoqualmie Y, the local schools’ Music Coalition, city council candidates, local businesses, parents, clubs and readers. I love to see that interaction, and want to encourage it.
The great thing about all those posts is that they’re real—authentic people and organizations, sharing their real identities, taking part on the newspaper’s page, helping us get their information out to their neighbors. That’s precisely the role a paper—even when it’s not on paper—is supposed to play.
Recently, the new-media thinkers in our newspaper company made a decision. Starting this month, the Valley Record and other Sound Publishing papers are changing the way we allow commenting on our websites. We are shutting down the old Disqus commenting system and turning on a new Facebook-based comment system. Now, when you make a comment, you do so under your Facebook identity. If you aren’t on Facebook, you can’t comment. Of course, if you don’t want to be on Facebook but still have something to say, you can still send a letter to the editor—which ultimately goes up on our Web page.
The idea behind the change is to make commenting easier, encourage more of it and improve our site. A side benefit is that anonymous comments are more or less impossible under a Facebook commenting system.
Have you ever checked out a major national news story, perhaps one on a tragic situation? Did you ever notice how some of the comments can shock with their insensitivity, often by design? That is the downside of anonymous commenting. What some can say from the safety of the shadows can only make you shake your head and wonder.
From now on, just like on our letters page in print, commenters will need to stand behind their words online. This kind of accountability is worth making changes for.
We’ve had few problems with anonymous comments at the Record, and I think that’s a compliment to the civil character—and small size—of our communities. A switch to Facebook may inconvenience some folks who are already signed up through our older system. But, ultimately, it’ll make for a more diverse, readable Record website.
Half a billion people are on Facebook today. There are a lot of conversations out there, just waiting to happen here. Find the Record on Facebook, and let’s begin.