Vermont politicians should market themselves in local media outlets instead of buying ads on Google and Facebook.
Seven Days made that point in a publisher's note last month that has been picked up — or quoted — by newspapers across the state, from the Caledonian-Record to the Rutland Herald to the Bennington Banner. It's long been a source of frustration among Vermont media outlets. While we dutifully cover their campaigns and publish their letters to the editor, the candidates increasingly send their donations to ... Silicon Valley.
We are grateful to the politicians in these pages who are aligning themselves with — and supporting — our first-ever Primary Voters' Guide. But many are still spending thousands of dollars on social media. See for yourself by searching Facebook's Ad Library, which archives all active and inactive political ads placed on Facebook and Instagram since May 2018. I found a candidate currently paying Facebook to promote a newspaper endorsement.
Does anyone else see the irony there?
The journalism newspapers produce is essential to our democracy. A 2019 study from the nonprofit PEN America found a direct correlation between strong local media coverage and healthy civic institutions. Advertising trends and the economic fallout from the pandemic both threaten that crucial relationship. "As local journalism declines, government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked," reads the summary. "With the loss of local news, citizens are: less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office."
Supporting and preserving local journalism should be a no-brainer for those seeking to lead our state.
Facebook, on the other hand, is used to undermine democracy. It launched the Ad Library to increase transparency following the 2016 presidential election, when Russian-backed accounts bought ads aimed at manipulating American voters and suppressing turnout. Consider: Facebook not only fed those ads to its users, it accepted payment in rubles!
And Facebook has other problems. The company is currently under pressure from civil rights groups demanding that it do more to stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platforms. Hundreds of companies and organizations have endorsed the Stop Hate for Profit ad boycott, including Burton Snowboards and Ben & Jerry's owner, Unilever.
Will that force Facebook to change? Company execs have said it won't. They realize that most of Facebook's $70 billion annual haul comes from 8 million advertisers — small businesses, nonprofits, political campaigns.
They like Facebook because it lets them target you — by gender, age, geography, political affiliation, interests — and so far they're willing to overlook how it contributes to divisiveness, polarization and the spread of conspiracy theories.
Facebook sees its users as a collection of data points to be sold to a buyer. At Seven Days, we see our readers as our active, educated and engaged neighbors and friends, our biggest fans, and our sharpest critics. And, most importantly, as Vermonters who care about this place as much as we do.
If that difference matters to you, let our advertisers know that you appreciate their commitment to sustaining local journalism. It's not too late to save it.