- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Oh Facebook. What a love/hate relationship I have with you.

Yesterday I posted on Mr. Zuckerberg's platform a link to a City report about the maintenance contract for the 48 bus shelters in Owen Sound. As illustration, I used a photograph I took a week ago of some garbage, including a slice of pizza, in a local bus shelter at the foot of a big ad for Scotia Bank's Hockey Day in Canada.

The post was intended to draw attention to the fact that the City has been unable to attract a contractor for the regular cleaning and maintenance of the shelters, and the former contract expired October 31.

I had taken the photograph for someone at City Hall who has told me that such photographs are helpful to pinpoint areas that need the attention of City staff or contractors. I had intended to send it after the same garbage was still there yesterday, and then I read the report.

We had no difficulty finding a contractor to sell bus shelter ads. Pattisons, the largest outdoor ad company in Canada and one division of the Jim Pattison Group, Canada's 26th largest company, continues to look after that for us.

The Owen Sound transit system itself is run under a contract with First Transit, a Cincinnati based company recently sold (along with First Student) to the global investment firm EQT Infrastructure for a total of $4.6 billion.

But no one seems to want the bus shelter maintenance contract.

That was really the only point of my post. Solving a problem. Perhaps some small local company, a young start-up, might see this as an opportunity?

One person did express interest (although he really needs to work on his costing to avoid underselling himself drastically!). But far more people wanted to talk about their neighbours.

They called them “pigs”, declared that they themselves would never litter,  decried the lack of consequences for those who leave garbage, and offered them lessons in putting garbage in a receptacle, on the bus or off. When I pointed out that there is no trash can there and the pizza person might not have been a bus rider but only someone getting out of bad weather, the reaction was swift. “This is not a patio!!!”

Apparently getting out of the rain in a bus shelter forces a driver to stop, and holds up all the traffic behind them - the same as it would if you were a passenger, but an unnecessary stop.

This had never occurred to me. I have certainly stepped into transit shelters in my day, in many cities, with no intention of getting on a vehicle. Sometimes to get out of the rain, sometimes to look at a map (or an ad!) and once or twice to keep some food from blowing away.

I imagined what I would do if I were headed home from a class at Georgian and stopped for a slice of pizza and it started to pour halfway home. Would I step into a bus shelter? Absolutely. And if the slice dropped on the ground, what would I do? Honestly? I'd leave it there. I wouldn't touch anything that had been on the floor of a bus shelter with my bare hands.

It is perhaps my biggest problem with Facebook. The opportunity to “other” and insult and vent is endless. There are no limits to the advice you can offer on what other people should do – how their parents should have raised them and how they should be punished. 

Rather than consider solutions to problems we share collectively – the aesthetics and health of a commonly-held public asset, the need for a local contractor – we are encouraged to work ourselves into a rage because, internal Facebook documents reveal, this keeps us engaged and the Facebook revenues growing.

The Owen Sound Hub currently has three mandates: to build community, to help find solutions to shared concerns, and to amplify the voices of those of our neighbours who don't often hold the microphone. You can judge how we are doing on these three by going to the OwenSoundHub.org website, but not by simply looking at the posts that Mr. Zuckerberg's algorithm curates for your Newsfeed.

Changes in those algorithms, pages and groups affect us every day. The OwenSoundHub's Facebook page now has ever-diminishing “reach,” while the Owen Sound Hubbub group is growing by leaps and bounds and requires constant monitoring for ads, insults and misinformation.

On the Hub Facebook page, the post about the bus shelters had a reach of almost 3,000. The post from the Health Unit about new testing procedures? Barely 250. The post about the Flato promotional video had a reach of 3,257. The baking contest for Big Brothers, Big Sisters?  147.

This is simply Facebook determining what they think (their system thinks) our community wants to see. Ultimately it has to do with choices you make, posts you like, etc, but not directly. And I think their system, like the developer's contractor, have our community all wrong.

I encourage you to cruise through our site and decide for yourself what interests you – Letters, Opinions, City news, Arts? Write to us if you have your own thoughts on something in your community. Let's keep the conversation civil – with or without Mr. Zuckerberg.




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