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Why 1Limburg will be sharing fewer news articles on Facebook

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

By Rob van Well – Head of News at L1

A neighbourhood quarrel with a Syrian family in #Heerlen recently got completely out of hand recently. The videos the family published on social media were extreme. Local residents yelling at their front door and an incendiary bomb thrown into their garden. How sensational can it get?

At first, we [1Limburg] decided not to publish about the matter. When we eventually did publish, we kept our articles limited and generalised. It soon became clear that there was also another side to the matter: a lot of gossip circulated in the neighbourhood about alleged misbehaviour of the Syrians themselves, but there was no verifiable evidence. Moreover, we knew that published articles would provoke extreme reactions.

We have a lot of experience with those kind of reactions, especially on Facebook. Back in 2014, when the 1Limburg online news platform was launched, Facebook was a blessing for online news platforms. By sharing news on Facebook we reached a group that had largely lost sight of traditional news media. Moreover, Facebook facilitates plenty of interaction opportunities, which matches our core task as a public broadcaster to stimulate dialogue.

However, that dialogue can hardly be called a dialogue any more on Facebook. In 2015, we closed the comment function on our online news platform itself, because the discussion was systematically spoiled by a small group of visitors.

The same is now the case on Facebook. Especially when it comes to subjects like Zwarte Piet, refugees or animal cruelty, discussions quickly degenerate into vulgar verbal abuse. People with a nuanced point of view stay away, which threatens to turn 1Limburg's Facebook page into a place where like-minded people with extreme points of view meet.

We don't want to be that place. We intend to facilitate a dialogue in which everyone can express their opinion. We intend to contribute to a broad social debate on subjects that are relevant to the public.

This is prohibited by a limited group hijacking the discussion with intolerant and sometimes downright aggressive statements.

As an editorial team, we bear extra responsibility because people often feel empowered in their behavior when mainstream media pay attention to it.

The discussion about the neighbours' quarrel over the Syrian family in Heerlen escalated after media published the video of the Syrian family online, including on Facebook. Aggression online should never be downplayed. It can easily spread to the real world, if someone feels empowered to take physical action by discussion with like-minded people.

Photo: © 1Limburg 2020

Tempers had run so high in Heerlen that we found that risk too high. We did not want to play a role in further escalation of this neighborly quarrel. In the end we no longer could ignore the events, when Burgemeester Wever of Heerlen issued an emergency ordinance to calm things down. We accidentally posted one of the messages on Facebook, on which more than 150 responses were posted in within minutes, in which the nuance was often hard to find. We immediately removed the post.

We will apply more self-censorship on Facebook in the near future.

We do not shy away from topics on our own platforms, but we do think more carefully before sharing them on Facebook and other social media, such as YouTube and Twitter, where similar effects lurk.

With a heavy heart, yes, because it comes down to bowing down to aggression. More importantly, we do not want to facilitate this aggression and certainly do not want to stimulate it.

Comment? rob.vanwell@l1.nl

Read the original article in Dutch at 1Limburg by clicking here.

1Limburg is provincial public broadcaster L1's online news platform. Their aim is to provide the residents of Limburg with broad information [in Dutch] about the most important events and social developments in the province. In addition, 1Limburg reports on everything outside the province that concerns the people of Limburg.

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