Cutbacks in local news leave some communities in the dark


News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports



In this Feb. 19, 2019 photo, the old Daily Guide office stands for sale in St. Robert, Mo. With the shutdown of the newspaper in September 2018, this area in central Missouri's Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

In this Feb. 19, 2019 photo, the old Daily Guide office stands for sale in St. Robert, Mo. With the shutdown of the newspaper in September 2018, this area in central Missouri's Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)


This Feb. 20, 2019 photo shows a microfilm copy of the Daily Guide at the library in Waynesville, Mo. With the shutdown of the Daily Guide in September 2018, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri's Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)


In this Feb. 20, 2019 photo, Facebook blogger Darrell Todd Maurina speaks during an interview at his house in Waynesville, Mo. Maurina says journalists need to go back to the basics to survive, or revive, in small-town America. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)


By DAVID BAUDER and DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

Sunday, March 10

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket.

He wears a tie; Maurina insists upon professionalism.

He is the press — in its entirety.

Maurina, who posts his work to Facebook, is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations — specifically, their discussions about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated during a 2013 flood.

Last September, Waynesville became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina.

Blame revenue siphoned by online competition, cost-cutting ownership, a death spiral in quality, sheer disinterest among readers or reasons peculiar to given locales for that development. While national outlets worry about a president who calls the press an enemy of the people, many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died of cancer.

Local journalism is dying in plain sight.

___

A rock outcropping painted by a local tattoo artist to resemble a frog greets visitors who follow the old Route 66 into Waynesville. Along with its sister city St. Robert, the military towns are dominated by the nearby Fort Leonard Wood, which has kept the county’s population steadily around 50,000 for the past decade.

Five of Waynesville’s eight city council members are former military, and Mayor Luge Hardman says the meetings run efficiently as a result.

“This is a small town where you can be from somewhere else and not feel like an outsider,” said Kevin Hillman, Pulaski County prosecuting attorney.

The Daily Guide, which traces to 1962, was a family owned paper into the 1980s before it was sold to a series of corporate owners that culminated with GateHouse Media Inc., the nation’s largest newspaper company. Five of the 10 largest newspaper companies are owned by hedge funds or other investors with several unrelated holdings, and GateHouse is among them, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies news industry trends.

Critics have said GateHouse and some other newspaper companies follow a strategy of aggressive cost-cutting without making significant investments in newsrooms. GateHouse rejects the notion that their motivations are strictly financial, pointing to measures taken in Waynesville and elsewhere to keep news flowing, said Bernie Szachara, the company’s president of U.S. newspaper operations.

All newspaper owners face a brutal reality that calls into question whether it’s an economically sustainable model anymore unless, like the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, the boss is the world’s richest man.

That’s especially true in smaller communities.

“They’re getting eaten away at every level,” said Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst at Harvard’s Nieman Lab.

Newspaper circulation in the U.S. has declined every year for three decades, while advertising revenue has nosedived since 2006, according to the Pew Research Center. Staffing at newspapers large and small has followed that grim trendline: Pew says the number of reporters, editors, photographers and other newsroom employees in the industry fell by 45 percent nationwide between 2004 and 2017.

In the mid-1990s, when former Daily Guide publisher Tim Berrier was replaced, the newspaper had a news editor, sports editor, photographer and two reporters on staff. Along with traditional community news, the Daily Guide covered the Army’s decision to move its chemical warfare training facility to Fort Leonard Wood in the 1990s, and a flood that swept a mother and son to their deaths in 2013.

As recently as 2010, the Daily Guide had four full-time news people, along with a page designer and three ad salespeople.

But people left and weren’t replaced. Last spring, the Daily Guide was cut from five to three days a week. In June, the last newsroom staffer, editor Natalie Sanders, quit — she was burned out, she said. She made a bet with the only other full-time employee, ad sales person Tiffany Baker, over when the newspaper would close. Sanders said three years; Baker said one.

The last edition was published three months later, on Sept. 7.

“It felt like an old friend died,” Sanders said. “I sat and I cried, I really did. Because being the editor of the Daily Guide was all I wanted for a really long time.”

The death of the Daily Guide raises questions not easily answered, the same ones asked at newspapers big and small across the country.

Did GateHouse stop investing because people were less interested in reading the paper? Berrier said about 3,600 copies of the Daily Guide were printed in the mid-1990s. At the end, GateHouse was printing 675 copies a day.

Or did people lose interest because the lack of investment made it a less satisfying read?

“As the paper declined and got smaller and smaller, I felt that there wasn’t as much information that really made it worthwhile, so I did eventually stop” subscribing, said Keith Carnahan, senior pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church in St. Robert.

Berrier blames GateHouse, who he said “set the Daily Guide up to fail.” Others are less sure. Sanders, the former editor, and Joel Goodridge, another former publisher, blame both GateHouse and the community for not supporting the paper.

Goodridge said some businesses found they could advertise much more cheaply in free circulars dumped at local stores. He now works at a college in the nearby town of Rolla. His job at the Daily Guide was eliminated during the relentless downturn.

“When I first got into the newspaper business, it was intriguing, rewarding and I felt like I was doing something more than generating profits,” Goodridge said. “I felt like I was doing something for the community. As the years went by, it changed.”

GateHouse said the Daily Guide, like many smaller newspapers across the country, was hurt by a dwindling advertising market among national retailers. The paper supplemented its income through outside printing jobs, but those dried up, too, said Szachara, the GateHouse newspaper operations president.

Given an unforgiving marketplace, there’s no guarantee additional investment in the paper would have paid off, he said. Szachara said the decision was made to include some news about Waynesville in a weekly advertising circular distributed around Pulaski County.

“We were trying not to create a ghost town,” he said.

___

Residents of Waynesville are coming to grips with what is missing in their lives.

“Losing a newspaper,” said Keith Pritchard, 63, chairman of the board at the Security Bank of Pulaski County and a lifelong resident, “is like losing the heartbeat of a town.”

Pritchard has scrapbooks of news clippings about his three daughters; Katie was a basketball player of some renown at Drury University. He wonders: How will young families collect such memories?

The local state representative, Steve Lynch, would routinely cut out a story about people recognized in the paper, add a personal note, laminate it and send it to them — a savvy goodwill exercise.

Historians worry about what is lost to future generations. Many of the displays in a small museum of local history in St. Robert are stories retrieved from newspapers.

Residents talk with dismay about church picnics or school plays they might have attended but only learn of through Facebook postings after the fact.

“I miss the newspaper, the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and a bagel or a doughnut … and find out what’s going on in the community,” said Bill Slabaugh, a retiree. Now he talks to friends and “candidly, for the most part, I’m ignorant.”

Slabaugh acknowledges some complicity in the Daily Guide’s demise. He said he angrily stopped buying the paper when it wrote about a drag show at a local community center.

Beyond the emotions are practical concerns about the loss of an information source. The bank routinely checked the Daily Guide’s obituaries to protect against fraud; Pritchard said you’d be surprised by family members who try to clean out the accounts of a recently-deceased relative.

At a time when journalists and police are often at odds, it’s somewhat startling to hear local law enforcement unanimously express dismay at the loss of a newspaper.

Like many communities, Waynesville is struggling with a drug problem. The nearby interstate is an easy supply line for opioids and meth, police say. The four murders in Waynesville last year were the most in memory, and all were drug-related.

For painful, personal reasons, Pulaski County Sheriff Jimmy Bench wishes the Daily Guide was there to report on the December death of his 31-year-old son, Ryan, due to a heroin overdose. It would have been better than dealing with whispers and Twitter.

“Social media is so cruel sometimes,” Bench said.

Without a newspaper’s reporting, Police Chief Dan Cordova said many in the community are unaware of the extent of the problem. Useful information, like a spate of robberies in one section of town, goes unreported. Social media is a resource, but Cordova is concerned about not reaching everyone.

Local authorities still write news releases and, in the final days of the Daily Guide, the overworked staff often printed them verbatim — even giving front-page bylines to the marketing director for the Waynesville School District.

“I thought it was great,” said Waynesville School Superintendent Brian Henry, later adding: “Nobody’s really stepped in and filled exactly what we had with our newspaper.”

Posting press releases to official Facebook pages isn’t quite the same. County coroner Nick Pappas said readers are more suspicious of news releases than they would be of a fully reported news story.

“I’m not going to put out anything critical of myself out there,” said Hillman, the prosecuting attorney who just started his third term in the elective office. “I mean, that’s the truth. What politician is?”

___

This isn’t a hopeless story.

Dotted across the country are exceptions to the brutal new rule, newspapers that are surviving with creative business plans. In North Carolina’s Moore County, owners support the 100-year-old Pilot with revenue raised by side businesses — lifestyle magazines, electronic newsletters, telephone directories, a video production company and a bookstore.

Philanthropy is supporting other efforts to fill gaps created by journalism’s business struggles. Report for America, which sees itself as a Peace Corps for journalists, has sent young reporters into communities in Mississippi, Texas and elsewhere. It has relationships with newsrooms across the country, including The Associated Press. The American Journalism Project is raising money to fund local news, and recently announced $42 million in pledges.

What this effort means for Waynesville, and many small towns like it, remains to be seen.

It briefly had an alternative after the Daily Guide folded. A local businessman, Louie Keen, bankrolled a newspaper, the Uranus Examiner, that was delivered for free. The paper had some journalistic spunk, revealing that the Waynesville mayor had blocked some residents from seeing her postings on the city’s Facebook site. Mayor Hardman said it was inadvertent and quickly corrected.

The paper lasted five issues. Named for the tourist complex Keen owns, he said the Uranus Examiner was shunned by local advertisers because he used to own a strip club and uses sophomoric jokes to promote his businesses.

So Waynesville and St. Robert are left with Darrell Todd Maurina’s Facebook site, which he calls the Pulaski County Daily News.

A former Army civilian public affairs officer who worked at the Daily Guide in the 2000s, Maurina posts live from community meetings, reports on accidents on the nearby interstate and publishes obituaries. It’s meat-and-potatoes local news.

When he’s not at meetings, he works from a windowless office in the basement of his home. Court documents and papers are piled on the floor and coffee table near a police radio scanner, fax machine and television. On his desk are a well-worn Bible, small American flag and a signed photograph of President Gerald Ford thanking Maurina’s father for his support.

Maurina typically is awake before 5 a.m. to check the local radio station, if the scanner hasn’t roused him earlier.

“I really believe that as large newspaper chains cut staff of small newspapers, and small newspapers wither and die, that’s going to cause major problems in communities,” he said. “Somebody needs to pick up the slack and, at least in this community, I’m able to do that.”

Maurina’s efforts have some support, even from the city councilman who said he once threatened to throw Maurina out a window over a disagreement about a story.

“He’s an equal opportunity agitator,” said Ed Conley, another council member. “He tries to be fair, and to be honest about it, he does a good job, but he’s just one person and he’s limited by social media.”

Maurina declines to share many details about the finances for his online site. He also acknowledges some holes in his coverage, especially of sports.

For local athletics, some people turn instead to a Facebook site run by Allen Hilliard, a former Daily Guide stringer and school bus driver who has been posting photos, videos and newsletters about local youth and high school teams. Hilliard isn’t making much money from his time-consuming hobby, but like Maurina, he takes pride in providing a community service.

“If I quit doing it, then essentially there would be no (sports) coverage of anyone,” he said.

Maurina says he knows journalists need to go back to the basics to survive —or revive — in small-town America.

“We need to go back to what was done in the late 1800s — being everywhere at every event, telling everyone what the sirens were about last night,” he said.

Good idea. Who’s going to pay for it?

Associated Press Business writer Alexandra Olson in New York and video journalist Peter Banda, from Waynesville, contributed to this report.

Follow Dave Bauder at https://twitter.com/dbauder and David A. Lieb at https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

Facebook says service hindered by lack of local news

By DAVID BAUDER

AP Media Writer

Tuesday, March 19

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook’s effort to establish a service that provides its users with local news and information is being hindered by the lack of outlets where the company’s technicians can find original reporting.

The service, launched last year, is currently available in some 400 cities in the United States. But the social media giant said it has found that 40 percent of Americans live in places where there weren’t enough local news stories to support it.

Facebook announced Monday it would share its research with academics at Duke, Harvard, Minnesota and North Carolina who are studying the extent of news deserts created by newspaper closures and staff downsizing .

Some 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States over the last 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina. Newsroom employment has declined by 45 percent as the industry struggles with a broken business model partly caused by the success of companies on the Internet, including Facebook.

The Facebook service, called “Today In,” collects news stories from various local outlets, along with government and community groups. The company deems a community unsuitable for “Today In” if it cannot find a single day in a month with at least five news items available to share.

There’s not a wide geographical disparity. For example, the percentage of news deserts is higher in the Northeast and Midwest, at 43 percent, Facebook said. In the South and West, the figure is 38 percent.

“It affirms the fact that we have a real lack of original local reporting,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the topic. She said she hopes the data helps pinpoint areas where the need is greatest, eventually leading to some ideas for solutions.

Facebook doesn’t necessarily have the answers. “Everyone can learn from working together,” said Anne Kornblut, director of news initiatives at the company.

The company plans to award some 100 grants, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, to people with ideas for making more news available, said Josh Mabry, head of local news partnerships for Facebook.

That comes on top of $300 million in grants Facebook announced in January to help programs and partnerships designed to boost local news.

The company doesn’t plan to launch newsgathering efforts of its own, Kornblut said.

“Our history has been — and we will probably stick to it — to let journalists do what they do well and let us support them and let them do their work,” she said.

The Conversation

Facebook’s ‘pivot’ is less about privacy and more about profits

March 14, 2019

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to bolster his embattled company.

Author: Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

Disclosure statement: Bhaskar Chakravorti has founded and directs the Institute for Business in the Global Context at Fletcher/Tufts that has received funding from Mastercard, Microsoft, the Gates Foundation and the Onassis Foundation. He is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Brookings India and a Senior Advisor on Digital Inclusion at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Partners: Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s latest promise is that his social media conglomerate will become a “privacy-focused” one. By turns lauded and lambasted, this move does not quite address users’ primary problems with the company.

His move is the pragmatic shift of a CEO toward where the market is already headed. Ironically, Zuckerberg’s announcement provides more evidence for Facebook critics who say the company doesn’t understand even the concept of user privacy.

Zuckerberg has chosen an interesting metaphor to describe this change. He claims that people are shifting from publicly broadcasting their activities and views in a digital “town square” – and would rather discuss issues in a more secure, privacy-protective online “living room.” His company already owns platforms representing both venues: Facebook is the town square, the largest platform for sharing widely, and WhatsApp is the living room, the largest platform for sharing in small groups.

As a former partner in McKinsey’s strategy practice and now, as a scholar of strategy at Tufts’ Fletcher School studying the effects of digital technologies in 80 countries, I have been analyzing Facebook’s changing strategies for several years. I see Zuckerberg’s latest move as Strategy 101: a market-driven shift of focus. That, by itself, is welcome. What is not so laudable is trying to package the move as a revolutionary solution to his company’s widespread problems with privacy, facilitating fake news and underhand deals to share user data.

Worse, the changes will be difficult to execute and will not happen soon – or at least not soon enough for many users.

Driven by market forces

The writing is already on Zuckerberg’s wall: Users are leaving the town square and filling living rooms. U.S. Facebook users’ activity dropped in late 2018, while WhatsApp and Messenger activity grew.

Zuckerberg is merely preparing to shift resources to follow users from one platform to the other. However, Facebook’s business model dictates that the company cannot make a true pivot away from the town square and toward the living room. As a publicly traded company, Zuckerberg has a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to deliver returns on their investments. The town square makes all the money – and a lot of it.

Despite its troubles, Facebook made more money in 2018 than in previous years, and made more profit too. Most of the company’s billions were generated by the town square version of Facebook.

Zuckerberg hasn’t yet shown a plan for making the WhatsApp living room platform even remotely as profitable. Currently, his company makes 98 percent of its revenues from advertisers. It’s had only limited success with advertisements in the Messenger app and hasn’t even tested the concept in WhatsApp.

Moreover, the advertising revenue comes from companies that want to target the extensively detailed subgroups of Facebook’s social network users. WhatsApp collects far less data and is encrypted, which means its users are harder to target as effectively.

Gradually shifting, not replacing

It may take Facebook a very long time to figure out how to make money from its shift to more private messaging.

A plan to integrate the technical infrastructure of WhatsApp and Messenger with Instagram would allow users to seamlessly communicate across three platforms for the first time. More importantly for Zuckerberg, though, it would link billions of detailed Facebook accounts with WhatsApp users – opening stockpiles of data to mine for advertisers.

The integration could save the company money by letting it consolidate servers that handle messaging – but there is still risk: It could raise the hackles of regulators. Technical consolidation could appear to be a preemptive move against calls to break up Facebook, including by prominent lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Another possibility is that Facebook intends to adopt a business model more like China’s immensely popular WeChat. WeChat makes money from commissions on mobile payments for a whole range of services within the app, including shopping, games, meal deliveries and even utility bills. Facebook is working on a new cryptocurrency and on handling payments through WhatsApp. But those efforts are in early stages – and late in the marketplace.

An essential facet of WeChat’s business model is off-limits to Facebook. WeChat’s parent company is widely believed to share user data with the Chinese government, in exchange for regulatory protection. That may be part of the political reality of China, but would doom Facebook in the Western markets it currently dominates.

A major problem still lingers in the living room

All of this talk about changing the business model ignores Facebook’s real problem: its role in spreading disinformation and hate speech in communities around the world. Moving users’ attention away from the town square – which needs to be monitored and moderated – to an encrypted, private living room is not a solution.

Private messaging might even make things worse. WhatsApp is already central to a trend of misinformation, fear and violence in India: Users passed the word from town to town that any strangers about might be there to kidnap children. More than 20 innocent people have been killed as a result of these terrifying – but false – rumors. WhatsApp has also been implicated in mob violence in Sri Lanka, and voter manipulation in Brazil and Nigeria.

The company has claimed it can do little about such falsehoods spreading, because they’re encrypted and sent from user to user, rather than posted more publicly for others to view. Without addressing the problems of misinformation, shifting more communications to the living room will create more opportunities for fear, havoc and violence. This is especially true in the developing world, where users tend to be more trusting of digital media in general.

Zuckerberg also committed not to store data in countries with repressive governments, but that poses fresh problems. Many governments are discussing restrictions on free speech and data sharing, especially in countries where Facebook has some of the highest numbers of users, including India, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Turkey. Facebook can’t afford to turn its back on these countries and their governments, so this promise, too, sounds a bit hollow.

Zuckerberg’s latest promise is, indeed, one taken from a strategy textbook: Preemptively announce the intent to remake itself without abandoning the core business that funds everything. But it will mean nothing unless Zuckerberg can find a way to genuinely respect the welfare of his 2.7 billion users and improve the quality of social discourse, whether it takes place in town squares or in living rooms.

The Conversation

Livestreamed massacre means it’s time to shut down Facebook Live

March 21, 2019

Facebook Live can be fun – or really scary.

Author: Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) & Magazine, Syracuse University

Disclosure statement: Jennifer Grygiel owns a small number of shares in the following social media companies: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Alibaba, LinkedIn, YY and Snap.

When word broke that the massacre in New Zealand was livestreamed on Facebook, I immediately thought of Robert Godwin Sr. In 2017, Godwin was murdered in Cleveland, Ohio, and initial reports indicated that the attacker streamed it on Facebook Live, at the time a relatively new feature of the social network. Facebook later clarified that the graphic video was uploaded after the event, but the incident called public attention to the risks of livestreaming violence.

In the wake of Godwin’s murder, I recommended that Facebook Live broadcasts be time-delayed, at least for Facebook users who had told the company they were under 18. That way, adult users would have an opportunity to flag inappropriate content before children were exposed to it. Facebook Live has broadcast killings, as well as other serious crimes such as sexual assault, torture and child abuse. Though the company has hired more than 3,000 additional human content moderators, Facebook is not any better at keeping horrifying violence from streaming live online without any filter or warning for users.

In the 24 hours after the New Zealand massacre, 1.5 million videos and images of the killings were uploaded to Facebook’s servers, the company announced. Facebook highlighted the fact that 1.2 million of them “were blocked at upload.” However, as a social media researcher and educator, I heard that as an admission that 300,000 videos and images of a mass murder passed through its automated systems and were visible on the platform.

The company recently issued some analytic details and noted that fewer than 200 people viewed the livestream of the massacre, and that surprisingly, no users reported it to Facebook until after it ended. These details make painfully clear how dependent Facebook is on users to flag harmful content. They also suggest that people don’t know how to report inappropriate content – or don’t have confidence the company will act on the complaint.

The video that remained after the livestream ended was viewed nearly 4,000 times – which doesn’t include copies of the video uploaded to other sites and to Facebook by other users. It’s unclear how many of the people who saw it were minors; youth as young as 13 are allowed to set up Facebook accounts and could have encountered unfiltered footage of murderous hatred. It’s past time for the company to step up and fulfill the promise its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made two years ago, after Godwin’s murder: “We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg discusses the murder of Robert Godwin Sr.

A simple time-delay

In the television industry, short time-delays of a few seconds are typical during broadcasts of live events. That time allows a moderator to review the content and confirm that it’s appropriate for a broad audience.

Facebook relies on users as moderators, and some livestreams may not have a large audience like TV, so its delay would need to be longer, perhaps a few minutes. Only then would enough adult users have screened it and had the chance to report its content. Major users, including publishers and corporations, could be permitted to livestream directly after completing a training course. Facebook could even let people request a company moderator for upcoming livestreams.

Facebook has not yet taken this relatively simple step – and the reason is clear. Time-delays took hold in TV only because broadcasting regulators penalized broadcasters for airing inappropriate content during live shows. There is effectively no regulation for social media companies; they change only in pursuit of profits or to minimize public outcry.

Whether and how to regulate social media is a political question, but many U.S. politicians have developed deep ties with platforms like Facebook. Some have relied on social media to collect donations, target supporters with advertising and help them get elected. Once in office, they continue to use social media to communicate with supporters in hopes of getting reelected.

Federal agencies also use social media to communicate with the public and influence people’s opinions – even in violation of U.S. law. In my view, Facebook’s role as a tool to gain, keep and spread political power makes politicians far less likely to rein it in.

US regulation isn’t coming soon

Congress has not yet taken any meaningful action to regulate social media companies. Despite strong statements from politicians and even calls for hearings about social media in response to the New Zealand attack, U.S. regulators aren’t likely to lead the way.

European Union officials are handling much of the work, especially around privacy. New Zealand’s government has stepped up, too, banning the livestream video of the mosque massacre, meaning anyone who shares it could face up to NZ $10,000 in fines and 14 years in prison. At least two people have already been arrested for sharing it online.

Facebook could – and should – act now

Much of the discussion about regulating social media has considered using anti-trust and monopoly laws to force the enormous technology giants like Facebook to break up into smaller separate companies. But if it happens at all, that will be very difficult – breaking up AT&T lasted a decade, from the 1974 lawsuit to the 1984 launch of the “Baby Bell” companies.

In the interim, there will be many more dangerous and violent incidents people will try to livestream. Facebook should evaluate its products’ potential for misuse and discontinue them if the effects are harmful to society.

No child should ever see the sort of “raw and visceral content” that has been produced on Facebook Live – including mass murder. I don’t think adult users should be exposed to witnessing such heinous acts either, as studies have shown that viewing graphic violence has health risks, such as post-traumatic stress.

That’s why I’m no longer recommending just a livestream delay for adolescent users – it was an appeal to protect children, when more major platform changes are unlikely. But all people deserve better and safe social media. I’m now calling on Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Facebook Live in the interest of public health and safety. In my view, that feature should be restored only if the company can prove to the public – and to regulators – that its design is safer.

Handling livestreaming safely includes having more than enough professional content moderators to handle the workload. Those workers also must have appropriate access to mental health support and safe working environments, so that even Facebook employees and contractors are not unduly scarred by brutal violence posted online.

In this Feb. 19, 2019 photo, the old Daily Guide office stands for sale in St. Robert, Mo. With the shutdown of the newspaper in September 2018, this area in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122475664-ea07ffa4f2e7427fa9252cd030bae2bb.jpgIn this Feb. 19, 2019 photo, the old Daily Guide office stands for sale in St. Robert, Mo. With the shutdown of the newspaper in September 2018, this area in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

This Feb. 20, 2019 photo shows a microfilm copy of the Daily Guide at the library in Waynesville, Mo. With the shutdown of the Daily Guide in September 2018, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122475664-b96fa22e4ace43e58be18887936dbd38.jpgThis Feb. 20, 2019 photo shows a microfilm copy of the Daily Guide at the library in Waynesville, Mo. With the shutdown of the Daily Guide in September 2018, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities across the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

In this Feb. 20, 2019 photo, Facebook blogger Darrell Todd Maurina speaks during an interview at his house in Waynesville, Mo. Maurina says journalists need to go back to the basics to survive, or revive, in small-town America. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122475664-59e4c3ffcd6149e98493084fd3557567.jpgIn this Feb. 20, 2019 photo, Facebook blogger Darrell Todd Maurina speaks during an interview at his house in Waynesville, Mo. Maurina says journalists need to go back to the basics to survive, or revive, in small-town America. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports