Phillips: Love-hate relationship with Facebook

People tend to love or hate Facebook. And, some people can both love it and hate it.

The social network is great for keeping up with people you haven’t seen in a while, or even neighbors just down the block who don’t cross paths every day. The way it allows connections, even though they are merely virtual, is a great convenience. People also find interesting news, fun entertainment or just something that makes them laugh on this massive social network.

However, Facebook also has some problems. People are too willing to give up their privacy in exchange for using the network. It’s provided a platform for bullies and racists. It’s created a toxic environment in some ways as obvious disinformation flows freely through the network, letting people share to further disseminate the conspiracies and lies.

It also has changed the way media businesses operate, which is of concern to newspapers.

At the recent Minnesota Newspaper Association convention a speaker from Nebraska talked about the roles of media vs. Facebook to a crowded session. He has been involved in both sides as he sells digital advertising as well as newspaper advertising.

Although Facebook has many benefits, the main one being that business promotion can be done at no cost, there are some issues, he noted.

For one thing, there is very little choice in what a business promotion looks like and where it is displayed. If a business were to pay for an advertisement, they all basically look alike, so there is no way a business can distinguish itself through appearance or a larger size.

There is also no way to control exactly where an ad will land. It could get placed next to an argument about abortion or Donald Trump.

He pointed out that one reason advertising signs on the local ball field often sell out is because advertisers know they will be displayed in a popular local environment full of positive people that support the community.

He also told newspaper people that the reach of the free posts aren’t nearly as strong as people think. For one thing, Facebook restricts marketing content in favor of posts by families and friends.

The reason is that people on Facebook would be bombarded by thousands of marketing posts if Facebook allowed all to go through — and it found people aren’t exactly fond of seeing all that marketing when they use the network for connecting with people.

One way businesses can see that is by comparing their number of followers to the number of people reached in their posts, which is listed right under each post. The reach is often less than 30 percent.

Although this information is self-serving for newspapers, there are other reasons to worry about Facebook.

Should we give so much of our lives over to a company that has a not always clear agenda, changes the rules often and is located far from the center of our lives? Facebook is a company that needs to make a profit, but the company isn’t always clear to its users how it makes money.

Facebook also claims it isn’t media, yet it is running political ads. Company officials admit that they won’t bar blatant lies in political advertising, justifying it by saying it is free speech or it allows challengers an equal footing against incumbents.

Some have raised concerns that Facebook could tinker with its algorithms in a way to influence elections, favoring candidates who don’t want to regulate Facebook.

Others have asked if it is really free speech when lies and bullying are used to silence others? Is it free speech when only a certain proportion of people see certain content?

There are no easy answers. Although Facebook celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, virtual social networks are still in their infancy, so much needs to be learned.

As a start, though, Facebook could be more transparent about its practices so people know exactly what this mammoth network is doing with all the information people so willingly share.