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Opinion: When Facebook fails, local media matters even more for our planet’s future

A Kansas audience gathers for the screening of “Hot Times in the Heartland” at All Saints Hall at Grace Cathedral in Topeka. (Dave Kendall)


By Dave Kendall


The World Meteorological Organization issued a “red alert” as it released its latest report on the “State of the Global Climate” earlier this month, noting that 2023 was the warmest year in recorded human history — and 2024 will likely surpass it.


For the past two years, I have been working on the production of a documentary about the local response to this planetary warming, focusing primarily upon what’s taking place within the Kaw Valley and the Kansas City metro area.


The program – “Hot Times in the Heartland” – recently premiered to an attentive gathering of concerned citizens in a hall connected to Grace Cathedral in Topeka. It includes an interview in the cathedral with a person who has been intensely focused on climate change in various ways for a number of years.


I’m referring to The Rt. Rev. Cathleen Chittenden Bascom, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, which encompasses all the Episcopal churches in the eastern half of the state. In our program, she describes the efforts being made under her leadership to address the climate crisis.


After viewing our documentary, she sent me a response that I found most reassuring.


“It is a beautiful montage of ALL the good efforts of Kansans,” she wrote to me in an email. “Thank you for this important work. It gives me more hope.”


That response was exactly what we were aiming for with this program.


Knowing that many people are distraught by the challenges we’re facing, we certainly don’t want to exacerbate the climate anxiety and depression that already exists. The bishop’s response, along with those of others who have now seen the show, indicates we are on track in our effort to inform and educate without unduly magnifying a sense of hopelessness.


Collaborating with others who share our concerns, we have set up a number of public screenings in addition to broadcasts on public television.


Imagine my surprise when I attempted to “boost” a post on Meta’s Facebook to begin our online promotional efforts — and the company summarily rejected it.


Why? According to the automated response I received, the post “doesn’t comply with our Ads about Social Issues, Elections or Politics policy.”

Apparently, Meta deems climate change too controversial for discussion on their platforms.

I had suspected such might be the case, because all the posts I made prior to the attempted boost seemed to drop off the radar with little response. As I took a closer look, I found others complaining about Facebook squelching posts related to climate change.


Steve Lerner, a Lawrence psychologist who addresses the subject of climate anxiety in our documentary, recently moderated a series of public discussions around the state as part of the “Step By Step” gatherings he initiated with funding from Humanities Kansas. He says he encountered the same type of rejection as I did with Facebook.


Katherine Hayhoe, author of “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” serves as Chief Scientist for the Nature Conservancy and is a distinguished professor at Texas Tech. You might expect that she would be considered a legitimate authority on the subject.


But in the Meta-verse, where it seems virtually impossible to connect with a human being associated with the administration of the platform, rules are rules, and it appears they would prefer to suppress anything that might prove problematic for them.


Hayhoe expressed her personal frustration in a recent post on Facebook.


“Since August 2018, Facebook has limited the visibility of my page,” she writes, “labelling it as ‘political’ because I talk about climate change and clean energy. This change drastically reduced my post views from hundreds to just tens, and the page’s growth has been stagnant ever since.”


The implications of such policies for our democracy are alarming. Why should corporate entities be able to dictate what type of speech or content is acceptable?


In a recent article published in the Washington Post, the news editor of the Mississippi Free Press, Ashton Pittman, expressed the concern: “If social media corporations are hiding local (political) news from you, you’re going to be less informed, and the place you live in is going to be worse off.”


Columnist Dave Kendall’s latest documentary addresses climate change in the Kaw Valley and Kansas City metro region. (Dave Kendall)


Although it’s disturbing to see what’s happening in what’s become the public square for many of us, it’s been reassuring to experience the reception from our local media outlets, including Kansas Reflector.


While I was in various stages of production on this documentary, Kansas Reflector has published more than one piece I’ve written about this subject.


Kansas Public Radio also has provided a local platform for us to share our materials, with news director J. Schafer facilitating the broadcast of several feature stories edited specifically for dissemination on the radio. And as we approach Thursday night’s screening at Liberty Hall in Lawrence in conjunction with the University of Kansas’ Global Climate Teach-in, we were recently featured on the local program called “KPR Presents,” hosted by Kaye McIntyre.


Across the state line, public radio station KCUR in Kansas City has also been responsive, inviting us on to their “Up To Date” program in advance of an upcoming screening at Johnson County Community College.


The broadcast premiere of our documentary has taken place on Smoky Hills PBS, whose signal reaches across western Kansas. Although I was unsure how receptive the station might be to this topic, the program director enthusiastically accepted the offer to broadcast the show and the person in charge of promotions really did a stellar job.


Our show has also been broadcast on Kansas City PBS, thanks to the support of its veteran programmer, Michael Murphy, who’s retiring after more than 40 years in that position. (You might remember him as one of the “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations” trio who drove around spotlighting regional folk art for many years.)


In the middle of the month, KTWU, the PBS station in Topeka, will provide some of its prime air time to broadcast our two-hour documentary, following it with a special edition of its “I’ve Got Issues” community affairs show.


The local newspaper in Topeka also has gotten into the act. Before the initial public screening at Grace Cathedral, a note to the editor of the Topeka Capital-Journal resulted in a front-page story about our documentary and a lead story in its afternoon online headlines.

That same afternoon, Bishop Bascom and I were guests on WIBW-TV’s “Eye on Northeast Kansas” program hosted by Melissa Brunner. On the day of our premiere, WIBW followed up with an edited package that aired on their news programs that night.


We have connected with faculty and staff at Kansas State University and Emporia State University in preparation for screenings to be presented in conjunction with entities such as the Kansas Water Institute and Students for Environmental Action. We’re also conferring with organizations such as Kansas Interfaith Action to determine how to package our documentary for congregations throughout the state.


We are getting along OK without the promotional help of Facebook, but it does seem problematic that a behemoth such as Meta can dictate the terms of our communications.

As I write this, I find it a bit ironic that a message has arrived from “Meta Business Support” noting that it’s been a while since I ran an ad and reminding me that: “ads are a great way to showcase your brand.”


Do you believe that?


Dave Kendall served as producer and host of the “Sunflower Journeys” series on public television for its first 27 seasons and continues to produce documentary videos through his own company, Prairie Hollow Productions. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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