Facebook Under Siege -- Is this the moment when new social media alternatives can achieve mass-adoption?

Facebook sets a very high bar for other services to meet. I simply don’t see anything out there which can really offer a valid alternative for many of the functions Facebook offers users who need it.

This Slate piece sets out the issues quite well - #deletefacebook assumes individual agency and privilege, and too many users don’t have that. We need other solutions. http://amp.slate.com/technology/2018/03/dont-deletefacebook-thats-not-good-enough.html


This FYI maybe the bar to public awareness is coming down a little? https://twitter.com/dylanmckaynz/status/976368845635035138?s=19

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But then again… https://twitter.com/jason_kint/status/976928024011726848?s=19

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Welcome, @johnkellden!


Great piece, @laura.

The company has become so good at the many things it does that for lots of people, leaving the service would be a self-harming act. And they deserve better from it, too. Which is why the initial answer to Facebook’s failings shouldn’t be to flee Facebook. We need to demand a better Facebook.

So what does that mean exactly? And how does that fit with our vision of ultimately replacing FB with a decentralized approach that gives us ownership of our data, transparency/control of the algorithms that determine what we see, etc? The core argument is that, due to the network effect, FB is a de facto monopoly. Like an electric utility, it should therefore be regulated. Is there a way out of this trap?

Here’s another related question: would it perhaps be better for society to have a regulated, centralized monopoly than to have a completely uncontrollable system where bad actors can operate with no possibility of oversight? Look at how much of Bitcoin’s usage is associated with criminal activity, for example. Is that not a cautionary tale?

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thanks for sharing @laura

My feeling is that these kinds of pieces start from a general observation (which is itself much debatable) that technical alternatives to surveillance capitalism platforms lack the (technical) convenience of these platforms themselves, and then go on threading together evidence or opinions that support their “There Is No Alternative” argument.

Calling for regulation of a monopolist whose business depends on surveillance seems disingenuous too: surely wise regulation is urgently needed, but one needs to wonder what FB without systemic surveillance would be.

Somewhat provocatively, though, and tangentially, starting to address regulatory and governance issues could be easy, if any corporation running social media platforms would be required to make available as free software all the code that runs their apps and infrastructure and operations. Which is way beyond what toothless governments and regulators would be able to even dream at the moment, and which gets us back to software freedom, federation, indie web, etc. which are different topics altogether.

Interestingly, i come across these pieces more often in magazines (such as Slate here) rather than from individual bloggers, so one also needs to think about the agendas of publishers who struggle to fight for readers’ attention and are largely dependent on the surveillance.

So, getting back to this thread’s question - perhaps these kinds of pieces could be a good opportunity for us as a collective to develop further cogent counter-narratives to these poorly grounded “TINA” narratives, which may be providing a cosy cocoon for those who may feel very uncomfortable about spending their time “filling in surveillance forms” on FB but are unsure of what life without FB would feel like (hint for them: it’s all going to be good :smiley:).

We may not achieve mass-adoption soon, but the transformative potential of debacles such as the current one should be protected from reactionary “TINA” narratives.

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The “no alternative” narrative seems to me to be supported by the absence
of any suggestions of platforms to try instead in this thread!

There are clear issues with surveillance capitalism as a business model,
and some of us are working on that sensible, wise regulation that might
help address it. It needs a systematic approach - ‘just’ open source
doesn’t cut it; ‘just’ decentralised doesn’t cut it; ‘just’ a different
business model doesn’t cut it. It also needs to be useful and usable, so
that regular folks can adopt it; and have a marketing push of some sort so
that enough people are aware of it to get the network effect. These are
hard things to do.

I can see the appeal of working with the facebook we have - as a platform,
with scale performance, and many people using it. But without the data
harvesting and advertising… But it’s not clear how to get from here, to
there. Exploring and sharing plausible stories and paths to illustrate how
that might work would help policy-makers and others figure out what to do.


Well, to be fair @laura I think there were a few platform suggestions, right? But to your basic point, it does not seem like there’s a consensus or any huge momentum building towards an alternative. And that speaks volumes. As you point out, one implication is that regulation needs to happen, and we could have a conversation about the best forms that might take. At a more personal and communal level, I wonder if #HackFacebook is a better strategy than deletion? Is there a way that we can use FB as a “host body” for our own viral/fungal infection, where we hack it’s functions to serve our own needs better? For example, both the personal feed and the news feed functions are highly problematic. So are the limitations on the quality of discourse. But could we come up with ways to circumvent those aspects of the platform, while still taking advantage of its current monopoly on global connectivity?

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The question was asked if DigLife or HIE of One would take funding from Facebook to promote our respective missions. From the HIE of One perspective, the answer is yes. From the DigLife perspective, I’m not so sure.

HIE of One is conceived to be as policy neutral as Bitcoin, Ethereum, or any other public blockchain. Investing in HIE of One is like investing in Consensys or some other blockchain developer and promotion group. If the investment harms the open source code then the code and maybe the blockchain itself gets forked by other developers.

DigLife is a bit more complicated because somewhere in the core of our conception is the idea that how you finance tech determines what tech gets built. In that sense, DigLife is the complement to HIE of One and taking money from too concentrated a source or a source we don’t trust might be an existential issue. This also shows up in the large amount of time DigLife spends on governance as opposed to solving a technical problem.

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Check this out:



Ooooh! Looks like a nice #HackFacebook find, Philip!

Here’s an interesting piece from Tom Friedman in yesterday’s NY Times: How Mark Zuckerberg Can Save Facebook — and Us

I like the broad description he offers of the current digital landscape. It’s also interesting to consider his suggestion that Facebook and the other big tech firms (ands all business now, for that matter) are going to have to take deep responsibility for the social consequences of their products and platforms. An excerpt:

Values are more vital now than ever, Seidman insisted. “Because sustainable values are what anchor us in a storm, and because values propel and guide us when our lives are profoundly disrupted. They help us make the hard decisions.” Hard decisions abound, because everything is now connected. “The world is fused. So there no place anymore to stand to the side and claim neutrality — to say, ‘I am just a businessperson’ or ‘I am just running a platform.’ ”

No way. “Once you see that your technologies are having unintended consequences, you cannot maintain your neutrality — especially when you’ve become so central to the lives of billions of people.”

In the fused world, Seidman said, “the business of business is no longer just business. The business of business is now society. And, therefore, how you take or don’t take responsibility for what your technology enables or for what happens on your platforms is inescapable. This is the emerging expectation of users — real people — who’ve entrusted so much of their inner lives to these powerful companies.”

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Yes, there are no silver bullets, and very likely no alternatives will achieve mass-adoption any time soon. But rather than a sudden collapse, we may instead expect a growing maturity of the alternatives that are being developed – one just needs to think about what was available e.g. 5–8 years ago versus now (Mastodon, ActivityPub, Signal, the many experiments in IndieWeb camp, etc.) to feel that enormous progress has been made, whilst FB’s violations of users’ freedom and dignity has, if anything, only gotten unashamedly much worse.

My main point regarding April Glaser’s piece on Slate–and more generally regarding the narrative of trustable and freedom-respecting alternatives being generally not ready for mass adoption–is that contrasting surveillance capitalism platforms to their alternatives based on usability and on apparent value for the general public is a dangerous, solutionist (in the sense of Morozov’s work) fallacy which should not be allowed to pass unquestioned.

Whether FB provides convenient features is fundamentally irrelevant until they can guarantee that their platform respects privacy and freedom (which will likely never happen, as surveillance/advertising is their business model). Implying that the use of FB and other platforms that violate users (and let users betray their friends and acquaintances) is acceptable because alternatives are supposedly not as convenient should be considered morally questionable, not taken as an argument open to debate.

Even besides the many software alternatives to FB’s “tools” (just to mention another one, the Discourse software which powers this and many other communities is way more civilised than FB’s discussion environment and, as a hosted platform, as convenient to use as FB’s tools), there are plenty of alternatives, from low-tech ones on which people have relied for decades or centuries to keep in touch, to just avoiding to do things that seem to require the use of surveillance platforms.

Calm Technology for one is a framework worth exploring and working within.

Maybe an RFC for IP-over-Facebook-messenger? :wink:

Or less tongue-in-cheek-ly, and actually very seriously, I could see how using FB just as a hosting tool for one’s social graph, whereas conversations and other digitally-mediated social moments are carried out elsewhere, may be useful until one’s social graph is so enriched by the use of a broad and diverse array of smaller-scale, independent systems, that one can really achieve social graph portability. Which is a very complex issue on many fronts, of course–but also currently a domain of very active research and development.

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I don’t really disagree, hotzeplotz, but there is no doubt that a less
privileged person with a busy life will find both the process of moving
from a convenient and useable platform with an existing network to a new
one, and then using it, very tough. It should not surprise us that many
people stick with the fairly usable thing they know, where their key
communities (place-based, educational, support etc) are present, and which
have superceded alternatives often no longer available or in reach (for
instance through austerity here in the UK, many community support services
have been removed). The convenience and cheapness of online interaction are
great benefits for those who are both time poor and resource poor. If we
feel that they shouldn’t be using these platforms because of privacy risks,
we should also take some responsibility for failing to help them both
understand the risks early enough, and for providing alternatives.

It is up to those who are more capable of building and operating
alternatives to do so, respecting that our own experiences are not the same
as many others. We need to design for people who will never host their own
website, who struggle to learn new interfaces, who have no time or wish to
fiddle with complex settings, and whose social and informational needs may
be very different to ours.

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“the business of business is no longer just business. The business of business is now society. …’

Oh, that it were so.

While it may be the dream of those of us fortunate enough to have the time to reflect on these matters to make it so, for the wo/man on the Clapham omnibus, that they can now share pics of their aunt Flo’s 70th birthday in Australia with cousin John in Miami as they struggle to work is more than sufficient benefit to put up with poorly targeted advertising and a little bit of ‘data harvesting’ “… whatever that is.” 60+ years of commercial TV have seen to that*.

Lest we forget; never forget the wo/man on the Clapham omnibus…
… or the Okie From Muskogee

*But then this: https://500ish.com/pivot-from-video-cec917a0231e

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FB had $40B in revenues in 2017, with ~2B users, so each user is ‘worth’ approximately $20/yr.

I coming up with alternatives, I would suggest looking at the problem through a Jobs Theory lens (Competing against Luck, Clayton Christensen). What are people hiring Facebook to do? What are the specific contexts that the job arises? And what are the emotional and social dimensions? These are many times more important than the functional dimension.

If it is possible to keep the drum beating on the negative aspects of the amount of data augmentation, data trolling done by Facebook/Twitter/et al maybe it will be way to finally wake people up.

One final thought, there is no way Cambridge Analytica is/was the only firm doing what they did. So who else is mining FB data in a similar way?


Zuckerberg makes the wrong decision.

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If the FB servers are placed in Ireland (except for those serving US and Canada) this could get interesting.

To @laura’s point above, here’s a piece in today’s NY Times from the mother of an autistic child who has found enormous value in her Facebook interactions and doesn’t feel like she can #DeleteFacebook as a result. https://nyti.ms/2JN2Ap6

“I did delete Facebook and found myself sort of unraveling. I feel so alone without it. I’m actually tearing up as I type this.”