08 June 2013

The Medium Is the Message, or Why Everything Posted on Facebook is "Derogatory"

I've seen so many news items on my gay news website of choice, Towleroad , that amount to "someone posted anti-gay remarks on Facebook."  The first five or six times it carried a little bit of moral charge -- a social network founded by (among others) an openly gay man is being hijacked for homophobia.  But then I reflected further:

  • Facebook's business model consists of selling user information to advertisers.  Users themselves (bundled into a network of hundreds of millions) are the product.

When you are giving your name and personal information (albeit limited) to a corporation for it to package and sell, and that money is going to produce propaganda for an industry that is determined to destroy billions of human lives (I don't exaggerate:  listen to Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson) does it even really matter what you're saying on that corporation's bulletin board? 

I know a lot of people are worried about hate speech and "derogatory" language on Facebook.  Honestly, though, what kind of language can one expect to be hosted by a corporation that urges you to be a "power user"?  Someone has got to be left behind in the rush for power.  And (I may be stretching your historical memory here) the network was first intended for Harvard students only.  No, the bright young things in Dunster Hall were not (initially) trying to help Grandma stay in touch with family scattered across time zones.  It was only that "network effect," which means the attraction of a prestigious name tends to exert over non-prestigious people, that brought in the masses.

Now, you may be thinking that one can use any network subversively, and certainly there are Facebook users trying to do that -- see some of the comments after this article .   But just as the 19th century American labor movement did not get as far as it did with newsletters printed only with machines owned by Andrew Carnegie, the movement to save civilization from climate devastation had better start relying more on its own media.  The human dignity of our voices is not a commodity, and we don't need Facebook to organize ourselves anymore than the steelworkers and garment workers of yesterday did.

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