Unusual fact: there are more people alive today than all the people who have ever died in the entire history of the world.

Is this true? If I posted it on Twitter, would you automatically believe it? More of that later.

Time is ticking by quickly, and in 2019 we’re already into February. By the end of this month, how many people on the planet will use Facebook? Answer: 2.3 billion. In one month, every month and still rising. Amazing when you consider that Facebook is only 15 years old and now brings in an annual revenue of 40 billion dollars.

I like Facebook (there, I’ve said it). At least I like the good bits and when it’s used properly, but I think not only is it crazy the way we let it have access to all sorts of personal data, but I have a very uneasy feeling about the tsunami of information pumped out which people seem to accept at face value. I read it on Facebook so it must be true, huh?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc. etc. whatever your choice of social media, it’s dangerous and should come with a health warning.

Last week, research group Childwise reported that the average time spent online by children aged 5-16 has increased to three hours every day.

“Digital isolation takes hold of kids” read one headline, and television discussions asked “Is social media ruining childhood?”

In addition, a Daily Mirror investigation last week found that concerns over computer use has seen children as young as 11 removed from their families and taken into care because of fears that they are addicted to gaming.

And, of course, it’s not just the kids who are staring at their screens and not having proper conversations with real people. Far too many adults are wrapped up in it, addicted to likes and comments. A pub in the Republic now asks its customers to switch off their mobile phones, and it’s proving very popular.

The Washington Post says that a study has found that deactivating Facebook leaves people less informed but happier.

While it’s a worrying trend for individuals and families that our social skills are suffering, there’s an even bigger issue looming for democracies worldwide.

By the way, at this point let me say this is not a Luddite rant against the onward march of the digital revolution. As someone once said, a politician complaining about the press is like the captain of a ship complaining about the weather. Likewise, journalists aren’t complaining about social media per se, rather they are embracing it to aid their own work.

It has to be said, though, that in the New York Times, columnist Farhad Manjoo suggests that Twitter was ruining American journalism because journalists were rushing to premature and inaccurate judgements. I see his point; I find myself using Twitter less and less to express opinion nowadays. Not least because it’s hard to make a serious point in so few words.

Plus, like all social media forms, Twitter is inhabited by trolls and keyboard warriors who don’t seem to realise that their insults are viewed by the public and, more importantly, are subject to the laws of libel. Hence, a piece I wrote a few weeks ago attracted some pretty disgusting comments about a victim of the Troubles. Under a false name, of course, although I’ve been told by someone that the suspect they know the writer.

Such nonsense is a pain, but a hazard which I just put up with.

This week, my attention was drawn to many Tweets. One highlighted the case of a German National woman living in the UK for 74 years who was now having to travel to register to be allowed to stay in the country. Another told the story of a frail and sick man weighing six stones who was being called to an interview to see if he was fit for work.

These are important issues, which Twitter usefully brings to public attention.

However, should social media be our only source of information? It isn’t; despite a perception to the opposite, we devour more and more news and information now than ever. This week, Sky News celebrated its 30th anniversary. The year before they started, CNN were considered mad in starting a 24-hours rolling news channel because people thought there would never be enough and people wouldn’t be that interested.

There’s an irony that the president of the United States, Donald Trump is an avid tweeter, on which he pumps out any old propaganda, believed immediately by millions of Americans. While he has successfully denigrated the traditional mainstream journalism, an American media with a fine tradition for seeking out truth.

In microcosm, that’s a phenomenon which suggests that politicians and the powerful of all shades (not just the rich, but also the propagandist zealots of left and right) can have access to the public and pump out unchecked and unsourced material and opinions. While the regulated media are accused of bias and irresponsibility.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all media outlets are paragons of virtue. Journalism today struggles with reducing resources (the debate on how we might find a suitable funding model going forward is for another article); but the scramble for attention sees newspaper websites as reduced to clickbait, while the right wing tabloids in Britain often create disharmony with a skewed political slant on anything from immigrants to the poor.

Having said all of the above, the fact remains that traditional responsible journalism is still highly trusted by the public. This is particularly true in local papers, and generally Northern Ireland fares well when it comes to journalists who want to act professionally and produce information which the public has the right to know.

There are people who don’t agree; usually those with a vested interest in keeping things hidden. Would we know about the RHI scandal and many other matters at Stormont if it wasn’t for journalists, and it should surprise no one that Freedom of Information requests were often stymied?

Do we deserve to know what happened at Loughinisland, or would you prefer to have industrious journalists in the dock rather than the people who allegedly carried out the killings of innocent Catholics?

This newspaper continues its fine tradition of digging out information and presenting it to you. I think the next thing I might tackle is our rates issue; very soon the bills will hit the mat and they really have become substantial. How many public service staff do Fermanagh and Omagh Council employ compared to the days of the two councils. So much for local government reorganisation saving us money. What I’d like to know is, what difference to the everyday lives of the ratepayers have the increases made?

It’s not just the worthy stories of holding authority to account. The Impartial has a fine bunch of young journalists who do sterling, brilliant work week. Last week’s account of the inspiring example of Philip and Joanne Wilson’s telling of their story of the 15 days of their little daughter, Faith, was so heartfelt.

I know all this sounds like a passionate defence of local and regional journalism. I make no apologies for that. Social media has its place, but it’s important also that good journalism keeps people informed about all sorts of things happening in our world.

And the opening paragraph about the number of people alive today? It is, apparently, true. Although I’m not quite sure how they worked it out!