Question: Should we disband and delete all Facebook associations as an organization?
Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Today I am here to answer a question about whether or not cultural institutions should get rid of Facebook due to the platform's deeply problematic behavior in the political and societal sphere. Question has been edited for brevity/clarity.
Question: I have an influential Board Member who is advocating that we disband and delete all Facebook associations as an organization. He writes, "They are the world’s largest political platform, and unregulated, and in many ways destructive. As a board member of a forward-looking, organization, I honestly think we should not be a party to Facebook’s behavior, in essence turning a blind eye." He wants to know my stance on this. Have you had a similar discussion? Is anyone entertaining leaving for moral reasons?
Answer: Facebook is toxic. I'm not here to argue that fact. I 100% see where your board member is coming from. I wish more than anything that my organization would get rid of Facebook too. Facebook is happily helping the world burn. They are careless with our personal information. They are propping up governments engaged in open genocide, allowing Super-Pacs and billionaires to buy endless ads that purposefully lie to and mislead the public, and they are allowing people to push anti-vaccination, fake news, and other dangerous rhetoric. They create a safe space for hate groups to dox and bully anyone, including activists and private citizens. As long as you have the money to pay them, you can do and say just about whatever you want, and Facebook is happy to cash the check.
In the end, Facebook is a for-profit corporation. They are beholden to nothing beyond their unending financial greed, and accountable to no one but their shareholders. So they don't have to care what you, or I, or your board members think. That's the truth.
Facebook knows they are an absolutely critical resource for local and global communication. Facebook knows there is little will in the US government to regulate their behavior. They know that even people who don't like social media are, to a certain degree, beholden to the platform if they want their businesses to succeed, or their organizations to thrive, or their family and friends to know they're safe after a disaster.
However, from the perspective of a Social Media Manager for an arts and cultural organization, it is important to recognize that regardless of your personal feeling towards Facebook, there is a vast constituency that uses the platform in ways that are important to ensuring equal access to information and content.
If your institution has a global audience, it means not everyone can afford to travel to your site, attend your lectures, or participate in your activities. So, as much as it pains me to say it, those of us who manage our organization's social media have an obligation to provide content to people in a consistent and freely available fashion. Whether we like it or not, Facebook is free for users and a go-to resource for billions of people.
For audiences and visitors who are less digitally literate, they might not know to check your website or seek out other online avenues for information. Many folks do not navigate the internet with the same ease as those of us who are digital natives or do this work for a living.
All that being said, if you manage social media for a smaller community-based organization, such as a library or a youth arts program, you may have more recourse to disconnect from Facebook. However, it would likely be a bit painful, requiring a large investment in your website, an increased time investment towards finding other successful avenues for creating awareness, and a campaign to educate your existing audiences about where to go to find the information they need in lieu of Facebook. It is up to you and leaders in your organization to decide if that is the right path.
As far as this question is concerned, my professional opinion is that it is not your organization's job to stand on principle if the result is that fewer people have access to the great work your institution is doing. This is especially true if it could snowball in ways that impact your organization's financial sustainability. For example, my organization relies heavily on Facebook for paid program registration. Without paid registrations, programs don't run. If programs don't run, then teaching artist's don't get paid, and fewer people in our community have access to educational opportunities. This is not a price I'm willing to make my organization pay just because Facebook sucks. We do good work, and I'm sure your organization does as well. We want people to know about what we're up to, and people use Facebook all day, every day. It's the way it is.
I know this comes across as me essentially saying, "there's nothing we can do about it so throw away your morals." I know it is not what justice minded folks are looking to hear. But for now, this dilemma is our monkey and Facebook is our circus. It's the worst.
I truly believe that we, as a collective culture, will someday soon move on to what's next - to what is after Facebook in the social sphere. I think those of us in the social media profession will have a lot of influence on what that is. But for now, here are a few ways in which you can remain on Facebook, while limiting your contribution to its toxicity.
1) Reduce or stop paying for ads. Invest that money elsewhere in your organization's digital strategy, such as producing high quality videos/photography or hiring a paid intern.
2) Focus on organic growth and engage directly with your followers. Give your followers a more personalized and meaningful experience on Facebook. An engaged audience is lightyears more valuable than the number of followers.
3) Commit to making Facebook as a whole more enjoyable for users by only posting content that is focused on your organization's mission and makes people feel good.
4) Delete toxic comments and threads with extreme prejudice. Facebook wants to sell itself as a place for uncompromising free speech. But you still have control over what content appears on your organization's feed. You do not have to allow the "devil's advocate" to take up space in the comments.
5) Ask your organization to invest in making sure your website is beautiful, easily accessible, and just as good a resource as Facebook. In your posts, make sure you are always driving people back to your website (use short links).
6) Make sure you have at least one non-Facebook connected platform where high quality content and information is regularly updated. In your Facebook posts, tell people to follow you on that platform.
Do you have ideas on how arts organizations opposed to Facebook's policies can remain on the platform in ways that are more thoughtful and justice minded?
Have advice on how an organization can leave Facebook with out alienating audiences?
Let me know!