Surfing the social media websites

Weekday readers of Historic City News in St Augustine are provided an opportunity to share their perspectives, supportive or critical, through our “comment” feature; linking to our facebook page, accessible at, and our twitter feed at

More often than not, the modern methods of online news reporting, which includes reader participation, are considered an “enhancement” to reading the words of an individual reporter’s account of the day’s events. Citizen journalism provides us with added dimension to those accounts.

Facebook is a good example of a social media community that is robust, active, and has achieved global distribution of its product … you. Users of facebook are not customers; they are the product that is sold by facebook to thousands of advertisers who are willing to pay to get their message in front of you and millions of your closest “friends”.

In a local way, Historic City News has engaged over 11,000 registered users, contacts over 6,500 opt-in Weekday Issue subscribers, and interacts with thousands of readers on facebook and twitter. Through the mechanism of Internet publication, however, our content, including reader comments, may be read anywhere in the world by anyone performing a simple search on Google, Bing, or their favorite search engine.

An old hoax has resurfaced that suggests facebook users can tell the company what to do by posting a “legal notice” on their profile. Alas, it’s not true — your interactions with the company are governed by law and the company’s terms of service; just as Historic City News readers agree to be bound by our terms of service.

The hoax stems from a growing frustration at the power companies, like facebook, who have dominion over our personal information. The desire for “user empowerment” is understandable — but it doesn’t change the fact that the rules of engagement with social media and other Internet websites are governed by a contract; whose terms are accepted by you when you use their website.

These contracts let the companies do what they want with information you contribute, subject to applicable laws. As for your copyrights, they belong to you, not facebook — but you give the company a license to use them.

As an Internet publisher of local news content, we spend a large portion of our advertising income specifically to reach as many potential readers as possible. To that end, global web communities like facebook and twitter, and search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing figure prominently into those efforts. That is precisely what our advertisers, who are our customers, want us to do. While old fashioned newspaper publishers are selling ink and paper, we are selling “eyes”.

With that in mind, commenters surfing the World Wide Web should not be surprised or astonished to see remarks previously made on social media or other interactive websites, like Historic City News, reappearing down the road when they least expect it. You can tell facebook, twitter, Google or any other Internet publisher what you want them to do with your information; but, that doesn’t mean your claims have any legal effect.

My advice? Choose you words on social media websites carefully. As I have told other associates through the years, “Keep your words soft and sweet, in case you have to eat them.” I don’t always follow that rule — but, its pretty good advice, nonetheless.