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Larry Lough

Social media redefine what ‘family’ means

As if you needed more proof, your newspaper serves as a constant reminder that this is a different world we live in today.

Although our print edition readership has declined somewhat, we had 86,866 unique monthly visitors to our online edition in July, representing about 1.1 million page views. Fifteen years ago we had none.

As of Friday morning, our main Facebook page had 9,786 “friends,” and an additional 1,029 “liked” our Facebook page for Five years ago we had none.

Our Twitter followers numbered about 3,900 at the end of July. Three years ago, we had none.

Like many businesses, the newspaper must change or die.

While some customers might not like the changes, change we must.

WE KNOW THAT our print and digital products have some overlap of audience.

But overall, the people who read online – especially those who come through Facebook – are younger and more female than the print audience.

While people are people, different generations behave differently based on their experience with digital media.

For example, you find out through their Facebook pages that young readers are more willing than their elders to share personal information.

And they’re quicker to share their opinions.

WHAT DO YOU MAKE of the 16-year-old California girl who, barely 2 days after being rescued from her kidnapper, was on Facebook to share her ordeal and answer questions?

The girl’s mother and brother had been murdered by the kidnapper, and yet her response to several days of terror was to seek an audience on Facebook.

Maybe it was therapeutic for her, as some counselors have suggested.

Maybe it was totally inappropriate, as other professionals have said.

But just as the Internet gave a new meaning to “community,” social media have changed the way we must now define “family.”

MAYBE YOU SAW the letter in this past Wednesday’s editions by a reader who was bothered by some posts on Sauk Valley Media’s Facebook page.

The Facebook comments were made on a story that this newspaper published about a traffic accident involving a Dixon police officer who was responding to an emergency.

“Not even an hour after the accident, there were dozens of posts making fun of [the officer],” the letter said. “People were cracking jokes and laughing at what could have been a very tragic event.”

That letter drew a couple of responses on, including this: “Very well said. People have strange notions about what is amusing these days.”

Maybe. But it’s likely people have always had such strange notions, but social media such as Facebook and Twitter allow those notions to be expressed quickly – and publicly.

COMMENTS THAT people find to be offensive or inappropriate have found an outlet in digital media.

Even before Facebook and Twitter, online comments posted to articles and letters on our website sometimes brought out the worst in people. Something about commenting from the security of your own computer summons an odd brand of bravery.

Incivility in those comments has been curbed somewhat by our system that requires commenters to register with their names, which are attached to the comments.

Although several hundred people are registered to comment, only a couple of dozen regularly do so. And while their exchanges can get petty and testy, they don’t often cross the line.

We also know that online comments have a broad readership, even though few people want to get involved in the exchanges on the message boards.

When you go there, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. People who don’t like those digital conversations are advised to avoid them.

But with all the options people have these days to express themselves, you’re not going to stop it.