BRATTLEBORO — On Oct. 28, Retreat Farm announced it was making “an intentional choice to prioritize physical connection and authentic relationships by discontinuing their use of Facebook and Instagram.”
Retreat Farm Executive Director Buzz Schmidt wrote in an open letter to the community that “this choice was made based on our conviction that the strength of our community hinges on our relationships with one another and our connection to land and place.”
“Social media has fundamentally changed our society. But we believe that the destructive implications for people and communities greatly overshadow the benefits of Facebook and Instagram,” he continued.
Schmidt wrote that nonprofits and businesses “rely heavily on platforms like Facebook because of their convenience, broad and instant reach, and low cost. But in doing so, they contribute to a system that increasingly erodes productive communication and independent thought, increases personal isolation and loneliness, and destabilizes our faith in democracy.”
After a year of contemplating this decision, Schmidt wrote that recent leaks of internal documents from the tech juggernaut to the press by a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, followed by her subsequent Congressional testimony, cemented the nonprofit's decision.
“Facebook has intentionally and systematically amplified some of the worst content on its platform - facilitating hate speech, extremist rhetoric, and more, especially in vulnerable parts of the world,” Schmidt wrote. “And worse, Facebook openly acknowledges that their current mitigation strategies against problematic actors aren't sufficient.”
This summer, Facebook reached 2.9 billion monthly active users, more humans than live in the world's two most populous nations - China and India - combined.
“When one man and one company dominate the communications, discourse, and advertising seen by such a large percentage of the global population, our government has usually done its best to restore a competitive balance,” Schmidt wrote.
He said that “it is up to private institutions like Retreat Farm to seek new (and old) ways of communication that prioritize face-to-face connection and relationships.”
Asked how Retreat Farm could remove itself from Facebook and Instagram when they have become the principal means of electronic communication for such a large portion of the population, Schmidt responded that “this has been a driving concern for me for years.”
“Now that the repercussions of Facebook's power have become clear, it's imperative for Retreat Farm to lead by example and stop using these destructive communication mediums,” he said.
Describing itself as “a free public resource and common,” Retreat Farm says its attendance is expected to exceed 80,000 this year - up 44 percent from last year. But the farm isn't letting its dependence on donations from tourists and the community drive its decision-making process.
Retreat Farm says it is encouraging the community to help reimagine its communication strategies.
“We believe that by helping people connect with the land and by providing places and spaces for people to meet and engage with one another, Retreat Farm is providing an authentic social medium,” wrote Schmidt.
In the meantime, Retreat Farm will rely on email, its website (retreatfarm.org), traditional media outlets, and community-building platforms like Front Porch Forum to communicate important news and events, he said.