Editor's notebook: You've got a friend?
The other day, a few of us in "the biz" were discussing Facebook "relationships." (You'll notice that I will continue to use quotes to indicate my opinion of the real-life relevance of such terms.) One person said that he felt it was inappropriate to be "friends" with any politicians on Facebook. I countered that I, in fact, had a number of local politician "friends" on Facebook.
"Doesn't that make you seem biased?" the person asked.
Why should it?
First of all, I didn't seek "friendship" with any of these politicians. They sent me a friend request, and I accepted.
Second of all, I think this person's idea of real friendship versus Facebook "friendship" differs greatly from mine.
Right now I have 420 "friends" on Facebook. There are some people on there who attended grade school with me, and whom I haven't seen or spoke to (in person) in more than 20 years. There are some people on there whom I've met just once. There are ex-boyfriends whom I wouldn't dream of contacting, but whose friend request I accepted just to see what they're up to these days. There are groups and organizations and other professional contacts in there, too.
Voyeurism and information are the main attractions for Facebook. Real friendship is not. I mean, who has 420 actual friends? Anyone who makes that claim is either lying to themselves or to about 400 other people. I can tell the difference between Facebook friends and real friends: I see my real friends in person -- regularly.
Third, Facebook is not just a social site. It's become a way of disseminating information. Politicians (and others) use these sites as a means of communicating with a large part of their constituency -- it tells supporters and foes alike what the politician has been up to, how they've been voting, where they are and what their future plans might be.
To me, this is no different than reading the press releases that are regularly sent to me at work -- only on Facebook, the politicians' words, for better or worse, go directly to the constituent without any grammar, spelling or style adjustments from us.
As a newspaper editor, I think it's important to stay on top of what the politicians in my three coverage areas are doing. Facebook is just another means of getting information.
Anyone who's followed my editorials and editorial notebooks knows that I don't really believe in partisanship on a local or state level, in many respects. I think the candidate should focus on what's best for the town and what's best for the state, and not be driven by political party ideals. So it's worthless to read into what it means when I have Republican or Democrat Facebook "friends." It is no reflection of me as an editor, or me as a voter. The only thing it does is make me better informed.
Let's face it, even at a local level, ethics and journalism have been relegated to second cousins for years now -- ever since speed and quantity replaced quality, and people stopped questioning the sources behind the information they're lapping up. Yet I still strive to run these two papers as ethically as humanly possible. As many of you know, I'm a stickler for propriety. Even if I was personal friends with a politician (I'm not, though I hardly think it would be the first time that's happened in the history of journalism), I'd never dream of using my job to further anyone's agenda, even my own -- if I had one.
I guess my point is that Facebook is not something that should be taken too seriously. "Friends" aren't real friends -- of my 420 Facebook "friends," I'd probably only contact eight for help in an emergency. And it wouldn't be through Facebook.
Editor Frances Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.