Information and Technology: Part #4
Thank you to everyone who has read the first three posts in this series and especially to those who have reached out with a comment or two. I appreciate your interest and your support. I also wish to give a shout-out to those of you who have decided to give Mastodon a try and/or have indicated that they intend to do so in the future. I want to make clear that I have no proprietary interest in Mastodon. My intent in promoting it as an alternative information source to Twitter was simply to illustrate that when it comes to having access to the kind of information that is relevant to each of us there are alternatives to the major players out there. We still have choices and options and, as long as we do, let’s explore them to see if there is a fit for us. I firmly believe that social media has long ceased to be mainly a tool for connecting with loved ones. The evolution of social media companies, as well as search engine companies such as Google has taken information and turned it into currency. Controlling, organizing and disseminating information is big financial business with broad economic implications for companies like Meta (Facebook), Twitter and Google, as well as for companies on the other end of things such as television broadcasters, local and national magazine and newspaper chains and the economies of provinces/states and entire nations, too. With big profits tends to come big power and influence. Long after I finish this short series and go back to talking about the stories behind the songs we hear and sing, the legal battle regarding who gets to decide how information is controlled in Canada will be ongoing still. It may sound like an exaggeration but the ability of national governments to function with any authority at all is at stake here. Just think about it if Facebook ends up winning and gets to continue to use locally created content in whatever way it chooses. It could opt to promote government press releases, ignore them or change how this information is received by us, the public, by the way of how that news is presented. Social media company’s ability to create their own version of reality for us to consume is very real. It happened with Donald Trump and the 2016 U.S. election so there is no reason it won’t happen here with Justin Trudeau and Pierre Pollievre. It behooves all of us to remain vigilant when it comes to being able to access information that is factual and as unbiased as possible and then using our own minds to decide on our actions going forward.
As I type these words, I can no longer use Facebook as a means of finding information about any news-related story that is happening anywhere in the world. I cannot post any news-related story about anything that is happening in the world. If you live in Canada and are using Facebook as your sole source of news and information you may be surprised to learn about the war that has erupted in Gaza and how close we are to having this conflict become a global affair that could launch WWIII. If you use Facebook as your sole source of news and information then you probably had a hard time recently finding relevant health information when forest fires were burning and air quality warnings were being issued. This was especially true when The Weather Network came under cyber attack and went offline for a week. If Facebook is your sole source of information and news are you even aware of the shenanigans that Ontario Provincial Premier Doug Ford has been up to regarding selling off the Greenbelt to his real estate robber baron buddies? One of the most important roles that journalism fulfills for the public good is holding those in positions of power to account. The ability for journalists and for most media organizations to continue to perform this role has become more difficult when their broadcast platform (social media companies like Facebook) close off their access points. It is easy to reply to that statement by saying that newspaper reporters continue to publish articles in their papers and television reporters continue to report the news on TV. But, if most people (80%) are using social media companies such as Facebook as their primary news and information gathering platform then, who is left to actually read newspapers anymore or to watch late night televised newscasts? I am sure that the demographic for those viewers and newspaper readers skews toward seniors. Most people who use social media for their information are younger and fully connected. They are the workers and money spenders. It is tough for newspaper reporters and television reporters to continue to play a prominent role when four out of every five people have already turned their backs and accepted the seductive embrace of social media in all its many forms. So then, what is one to do if you are a Canadian and want to stay up to date with what is going on? Well, let me tell you.
My wife and I try our best to be proactive in our decision making and to avoid having to be reactive because we have let things go too long. Keri, especially, has always been very good about connecting directly to local businesses and service providers so that she gets her information about what is going on directly from the source. Many of those connections came via “LIKING” the facebook pages that many businesses and organizations set up. But since Facebook has started getting uppity and censoring the content we can access and that they are willing to deliver, we have begun slowly divesting ourselves from the platform. This means skipping the middleman-role that Facebook has carved out and connecting directly to information sources by activating email notifications. This is how we get our local news now. This is how we get Public Health announcements such as the locations of Covid vaccine clinics and flu shot clinics. There really is no need to not be aware of what is happening in your own community, town, province or country. There are still ways to find this information on your own and, by doing so, to take back some of the power we have freely given to a private, for-profit foreign company. What follows is just a brief listing of websites we subscribe to in order to stay on top of current goings-on around us. If you want to pay for the privilege of remaining informed, all national newspapers will hook you up with digital subscriptions that cost less than actual home delivery. The same is true on apps issued by national television networks such as the CBC, CTV and Global-TV. While each of those networks offers some free content via their apps, most require a subscription either directly to them or via a cable tv company for the full package. However, one thing you can watch online for free via these network TV apps is their national newscasts. Each network app also has a 24/7 package of news-related content available online for free as well. In any case, here is a listing of some of where we have gone to ensure our own access to relevant and current news and information.
News and Information:
Locally (which means my hometown of Cobourg and vicinity):
- MyFM 93.3 has really stepped up and is providing excellent local news coverage via their website. We receive an email filled with local news content each morning for free. Sign up via their website.
- Today’s Northumberland (Pete Fisher’s news coverage, for my local peeps). The Today’s Northumberland website is updated regularly with Pete’s great local news content. You can sign up for email delivery but we have found that to be inconsistent. Simply bookmarking Today’s Northumberland’s website and checking it daily seems to be the better way to go,
- Northumberland News remains active. We have signed up to receive email reports filled with local news and that seems to work out just fine.
- MYFM radio station is also free to stream on the web. If you go to their website you can “Listen Live” to them in real time and get the latest news reports as they are being broadcast. You can also do it the old fashioned way and listen to them directly via your car or home radio. Go figure!
Provincially (which means in Ontario):
- CBC.ca/news is the online news portal for CBC. You can use the app to read articles that they post and update during the day. There are also ways to watch live reports and newscasts via links available on the app. So far, this basic content is free.
- CTVnews.ca has the same set-up as does CBCnews.
- Globalnews.ca is the same as the other two. All the news of the day is free to access via their app. As well, all three apps have regional-specific content. So if you want Toronto-centric news, you can get it. The same applies for other provinces. I often check in on Halifax and/or Atlantic Canadian news this way.
- City-Tv.ca is an app that focuses on programming from Toronto TV station City-TV. The beauty of this app is that not only do you have access to printed articles that are updated throughout the day but there is a live link to the CityPulse 24 hour news ticker channel that you can watch for free.
- Many of the major cities in Ontario have radio stations that have apps or else they stream on the internet which is an additional way you can gather news and information from regional-specific areas of the province.
- As mentioned above, all major newspapers have their own websites where some content is free but much of it is not. Depending on how anxious you are to access news directly, maintaining a digital or home delivery subscription is the best route for those newspapers such as The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star or even The Toronto Sun. Many local newspapers have gone belly-up as a direct result of revenue losses that came as a result of Facebook draining their ad revenue away. If you still have a local newspaper in your area then, I am fairly confident that, like the ones near me, your local newspapers have their own websites and would probably allow you to subscribe to a daily newsletter delivered to your inbox.
Nationally (which means Canada):
The same apps listed in the provincial section apply here as well. All of the bigger television and newspaper chains seem to have good national and regional content available via their apps and websites.
- Other national sources for information include magazines such as MacLeans and The Walrus, just to name two. Their content is generally provided for a fee.
- There are numerous news-related podcasts out there for those who are into podcasts. Keri likes to listen to one from Sault Ste. Marie called Inside the Village which is run by former MacLeans Magazine columnist and author Michael Friscolanti. This podcast, which is available for free, discusses current trends in news and often digs a little deeper into their stories than you might see on a regular news provider such as City-TV, where content is constantly being refreshed. Like many of the items mentioned on all lists, you can subscribe to this podcast and have new episodes appear automatically in your inbox. I am sure there are many other good news-related podcasts out there. If you have your own favourite, feel free to share it in the comment section below.
- The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit often releases news updates and public announcements. We subscribe to this service and have these updates come directly to our inbox.
- Northumberland Hills Hospital also often makes health-related public announcements. Bookmark their website and/or sign up to their email list and you, too, can get all the latest information delivered to you for free.
- Many service organizations have a health-related component to the services they provide for our local community. Organizations such as the United Way, The Salvation Army, Five Counties Children’s Centre, Kinark Family Services, The Green Wood Coalition, FareShare Food Bank and many churches all have websites that provide excellent information. Many also allow you to subscribe to their email newsletter services for free.
- The Ontario Ministry of Health would be more than happy to send you email updates of their announcements so that you can stay up to date with provincial regulations and mandates.
- The Canadian Red Cross can be subscribed to for national events and information as well as for local events such as blood donor clinics.
- With so many people being affected by stress, anxiety, addictions, etc., access to mental health information and services is critical. The Canadian Mental Health Association is a good place to start in that regard. They have a website you can bookmark and email notifications that you can subscribe to. There are many other valuable resources out there that you can access directly and avoid going through Facebook. Please feel free to list as many websites/organizations that you can think of that you have found useful. I am happy to collate everything in one spot for ease of use going forward.
- Subscribe directly to restaurants in your area and/or bookmark their websites for ease of access. It is important to support local businesses and if you can do so and get a tasty treat or meal out of it for yourself and your family at the same time then why would you not do this?!!! I have a menu of apps on my iPad that are all connected to local chain restaurants such as Swiss Chalet, Boston Pizza, etc. We also make extensive use of the websites provided by non-chain local restaurants and happily, regularly order online for takeout or to make a reservation to eat in. The only downside to subscribing to a business of any type is that you may get sick of advertisements filling up your inbox. Fair enough. However, if you want to know who is having a two-for-one supper special then those same advertisements are helpful, too. As always, you can manage your email settings to control how often you receive advertisements in your inbox.
- Grocery store flyers used to come in the local newspaper. If your local newspaper no longer exists thanks to Facebook then you can still get hold of flyers for your local grocery stores via the websites of each grocery store. As with most businesses, if you find searching for websites to be cumbersome then those same stores will happily email the flyers to your inbox via a link on their website.
I could go on and on with lists like the ones created above. What is most important is the big idea behind it all. That big idea is that we have allowed ourselves to become dependent upon websites like Facebook to serve up information to us without much effort being required on our parts. Their algorithm-based programming means that you tend to receive targeted advertising and information based upon your clicks and LIKES that helped to create your personal online preference profile. In many ways, this ease of access to things we tend to like has lulled us into a false sense of security and even laziness. While we were allowing Facebook to provide us with our greatest online informational desires, we stopped using our own initiative and energy to do the work ourselves. We stopped watching TV network newscasts. We stopped buying national and local newspapers and magazines. We stopped directly accessing the websites of those companies who benefit from clicks and LIKES on their own websites which, in turn, helps justify what these companies charge advertisers for advertise on TV and in newspapers. For businesses and media companies such as the ones who run your local newspaper, advertising rates are often arrived at because of something called “Reach”. This term is used to describe how much interactivity is provable between a business and its potential customers. Those businesses who have a big reach tend to be bigger brand names such as Walmart and McDonalds. Smaller, local businesses do not automatically have that brand name recognition and, as a result, they rely on being able to advertise locally. If sources of advertising such as local newspapers disappear then, local business owners are forced to pay higher rates to advertise via Canada Post or else, they have to climb into bed with monopolistic entities such as Facebook who can control the success or failure of any advertising campaign because of algorithms.
Regardless of whether you are seeking information or else seeking to provide information, having businesses such as Facebook controlling it all takes away local autonomy. There is no need to be a slave to the terms by which a company like Facebook chooses to operate. Right now, they are deliberately censoring access to news and are restricting our ability to communicate with each other about current events that require access to news and information. But, as you can see from the small lists above, you can take control back into your own hands again by eliminating Facebook’s role as information provider from your life. If you want to continue to use Facebook because you like being connected to your friends and family then, be my guest. But be aware that using Facebook and Twitter and other social media companies has a direct impact on the health of local economies and, taken to extremes, can actually manipulate public opinion because of how they tailor the information you receive. This is dangerous for democracy which kinda seems important to me. Maybe I’m crazy. I dunno. I remember when Facebook first came on the scene. Some people referred to it as “Crackbook”. I always took that to mean that using the programme would become addictive. Well, it appears as though it actually has. Do you have the willpower to take control of your information away from Facebook or are you so completely hooked that you don’t care what Facebook is actually doing anymore? I am curious to see how it all unfolds. All that I do know is that I support the Federal law that was passed recently requiring facebook and Google to Pay for using local content on their sites. I also know that I am willing to take control of how I access information while I still have the ability to do so. If Keri and I can sign up for email subscriptions, you can, too.
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