The Politics of Facebook

From The Spark September 2010

Byron Clark (Workers Party, Christchurch branch organiser)

New Zealanders love Facebook. Many will talk about how much they hate
it, but the numbers show otherwise. One in four New Zealanders is a user of Facebook, for those aged 25-34, its one in three, and for
those 15-24, its nearly three in four. Much of the media commentary
around Facebook has ignored the social context in which the social
networking website has grown. The majority of New Zealanders work for
a living, and the nature of work in the 21st century makes previous
‘offline’ social activities and communication harder to retain. As The
Spark has noted, about 36% of full-time male workers and nearly 19% of
full-time female workers now work 50 or more hours a week. Almost
16.5% of full-time male workers and almost 8.5% of full-time female
workers actually work more than 60 hours a week. Work hours are longer
than the average in the traditional blue collar jobs; Over half of
agricultural and fisheries workers and over a third of plant and
machine operators and assemblers work more than 50 hours a week.

In service jobs, there are now enough 24 hour supermarkets and fast
food outlets, as well as late nights for retail and weekend hours for
banks, to keep workers in the service industries from having a work-
life balance, or even two consecutive days off. Socialising with
friends is extremely difficult when you all work different days and
hours, and have little time off work to begin with. It is no wonder
then that a social networking site, open 24 hours (like so many of
todays workplaces) and accessible via cell phones and any computer
with an Internet connection, has become a tool used by people to keep
in touch and communicate with friends and family.

Facebook describes itself as “a social utility that connects you with
the people around you” and it is. This may be the purpose of Facebook
the website, but the purpose of Facebook the business is, as with any
business, to make a profit. As Thomas Hodgkinson wrote in The Guardian
“Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money
out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national
boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them?” Evidently you can,
Facebook co-founder and current CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a net worth of
US$4 billion.

In its quest to target advertising at users based on their personal
information Facebook has come under fire for its lack of privacy and it
has made some changes to its complex privacy settings in the face of
public criticism. For those truly wary of Facebook though, going
without is not easy. In a feature article on Facebook published in The
Listener, Ruth Laugesen wrote of Nick Latty, a 22 year old Facebook
user sick of The torrent of trivial postings [and] … the queasy
feeling that Facebook knew far too much about him. Latty deleted his
Facebook account, only to return later.

I was trying to almost make a stand on the whole system. But for my age group, virtually everyone s on it. People would say are you going to go to this party or to that event, and I would know nothing about it. I was missing the boat. These days, with 21st invites, you won’t get a phone call or a letter: people will get Facebook invites.

Facebook has an almost captive audience for advertising. In March a
new application called SocialShop was added to Facebook, allowing
businesses to place their products in peoples news feeds (the page of
aggregated posts, photos and links from friends). Also this year,
Facebook made it possible for any website to add a Facebook like
button to content on their site. TechCrunch points out what this
means- Facebook will get the web to index itself, exclusively for
Facebook.

The future is beginning to look like that of M.T Anderson’s science
fiction novel ‘Feed‘ in which teenagers with Internet connections
wired into their brains experience the world mediated by private
corporations and characterised by extreme consumerism.

The future is not necessarily that bleak, as technology commentator
Mark Pesce frequently points out; the street will find its own uses
for technology, beyond what the company producing that technology
intended. In this way Facebook groups and pages have emerged as an
appendage of (or unfortunately in many cases, a substitute for) social
movements. It makes sense to think that when a company like McDonalds
brings in contracts forbidding workers to distribute ‘literature’ at
work -an obvious attempt to prevent workers giving out union leaflets
and newsletters – organising workers through a group on Facebook, where
those McDonalds staff are anyway, is a new way to build union
membership and activity. Unions are being told that they need a
presence on Facebook or else no one will know they exist. They need to
use Facebook to mobilize thousands of people, to send a strong message
to companies and governments, to grow their ranks, to make unions seem
relevant to young people. writes Eric Lee, the founder of
Labourstart.org who is critical of this view. “What you’re doing by
outsourcing your campaigning to Facebook is growing their company,
giving them direct access to your supporters and members.”

The value of Facebook to social movements is indeed debatable, Unite’s
group for the living wage campaign, which attempted to get a citizen
initiated referendum on the minimum wage had over 3,000 members. If
each of them had got off Facebook for an hour a week to collect signatures
the target would have easily been met. Of course, that didn’t happen.
Nonetheless, the right for social movements and progressive campaigns to
have a presence on Facebook is one worth defending, especially in
light of actions taken by Facebook in recent months.

In June, Facebook deleted a ‘Boycott BP’ group, a campaign against the
company responsible for one of history s worst ecological disasters,
and the group ‘Free Ricardo Palmera’, a group advocating support for a
leftist Colombian guerrilla leader who is a political prisoner in the
United States. (the Boycott BP group has since been restored, after an
outcry from its large membership). Also deleted was the PFLP
Solitarity group, a group initiated by the Workers Party backed PFLP
Solidarity Campaign. “[W]hich groups will Facebook target next?” asks
blogger Greg Butterfield. “Supporters of political prisoners like Mumia
Abu-Jamal? Supporters of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla? Opponents of U.S.
war against Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and Iran? Supporters of the
revolutionary movements in Venezuela, the Philippines and Nepal?
Abortion-rights advocates?”

If Facebook does continue its censorship of progressive causes, an
alternative will need to be found. Next month, The Spark looks at
Diaspora, the open-souce and non commercial social networking platform
being launched this month.

Advertisements

Comments

  1. One problem with facebook I see is that there is a risk that activism could become a purely ‘sit down at home’ affair. As a result perhaps there is just too much opportunity for people to mislead themselves that having a whinge on facebook or liking a facebook page or post somehow constitutes collective action. Armchair activism and moaning (and I will be honest, my comment on this article is included in this category) is no substitute for rallies, public meetings, pickets, and other direct action. Sure, the left needs to strategically harness social media but we can’t let it be a substitute for other action no matter how busy we are.

  2. Can you spell ‘hypocrisy’? You (your organisation and members thereof) were all happily using Facebook, organising your pathetic little insignificant protests , supporting and fund-raising for PFLP terrorists until recently. Strange how it was good enough for you then (until you rightly got kicked off). Still a pathetic group of nobodies I see!

  3. Why waste your time posting here Frederick? But for your information, we are still fund-raising for the PFLP and never actually did it on Facebook. We did it, and continue to do it, in the real world, raising real money to send to Palestine to wage a real struggle. Facebook was never a significant part of that campaign.
    Cheers,
    John

  4. Ian Anderson says:

    You’ll notice, Fred, that we mention that very campaign in the article. It’s not hypocritical to critically assess our own decisions and activities…

  5. maryloo soueid says:

    i got kicked off of face book… “disabled” as they call it…. in mid july

    here are the 2 responses i got from the 2 facebook email addresses i wrote to in mid july when i was “disabled”, who supposedly respond to folks who are “disabled” .

    the first response was about the group i was one of 5 admins to. and this is their warning to me (which i never saw till august 1st ) ..it was sent april 7th. :

    Hello,

    The group “Solidarity with Comrade Ahmed Saadat” has been removed because it violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, groups that are hateful, threatening or obscene are not allowed. We also take down groups that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at http://www.facebook.com/help/?topic=wgroups.

    The Facebook Team
    ******************************
    then… i got an email from the 2nd facebook email address i wrote to and all “liam ” had to say was…..

    Hi Maryloo,

    After reviewing your situation, we have determined that you violated our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. One of Facebook’s main priorities is the comfort and safety of our users. We do not allow credible threats to harm others, support for violent organizations, or exceedingly graphic content. Your violation of Facebook’s standards has resulted in the permanent loss of your account. We will not be able to reactivate your account for any reason. This decision is final.

    Thanks,

    Liam
    User Operations
    Facebook

    ******************************

    “credible threats!?” geez! .. it looks like they read the war on terror propaganda big time and take it to heart… with the language they use in this accusation. instead of commies under the beds they are going on a trip about jihadi’s/ terrorists/ anti-zionists..etc. . under the bed…lol ! what a bunch of paranoid freaks!

%d bloggers like this: