Escape From Facebookistan - Can a public sphere worth living in ever be built online?

Escape From Facebookistan - Can a public sphere worth living in ever be built online?

I remember not too long ago myself punting that a business really just needs Facebook Page and no longer needs to create and run their own website.... That was because assumptions were made that everyone was on Facebook (or would be), our SMS messages and friends contacts were not being invaded, and there were no shady background companies harvesting all sorts of data from it for profit.

Some takeaways from the linked article are:

"Although the social networking platform, which was then only three years old, was already an online powerhouse, ranking eleventh in annual web traffic, politicians knew very little about it, other than a vague notion that Facebook would help them reach young people"

"With 68 percent of Americans currently using Facebook, it has become the nation’s de facto digital public square, at least in part because the country’s political leaders lacked the civic imagination to insist on a public alternative. With their tacit approval, Facebook built a giant garden for its users, walled off from the open internet. And then, taking advantage of its popularity, Facebook started copying and replacing older public forms of civic engagement with new ones that only live inside its platform. "

"Think about it: To participate in a politician’s Facebook group or a Facebook town hall meeting with an elected representative, you have to be a member of Facebook. Imagine being told that to attend a public meeting of your school board or to join a local community organization, you had to agree to let a private corporation amass a dossier about you."

"It’s a problem because democracy cannot function inside a surveillance machine. Even if you aren’t on Facebook, your world is being powerfully warped by its dominance, to the point where Americans now have trouble imagining a civic life that exists outside its systems."

"The Internet was originally a public good, built with taxpayer dollars that supported the early research that created its protocols and the nonprofit communications backbone that allowed millions of people to start connecting to it. "

"So instead of protecting this new “federal park” from commercialization, America’s leaders gave the job of stewarding the internet to private corporations and invited them to build it as a hub for commerce. "

And is there any solution? Well, partly and one would think the ideal is for a government in the interests of its citizens to provide a more neutral open platform... but unfortunately governments also seem intent on knowing specifically what their citizens are up to.... We probably need to think a bit broader as even the voluntary federated networks are probably not grabbing the buy-in it was thought they would do (and how would they scale to a billion or more users?):

"How can we even begin to tackle such a big problem? Government agencies and elected officials can take the lead by shutting down their Facebook presences, at least until the company radically changes how it handles user data. The large civil society organizations that use Facebook, such as PETA and the AARP, can step up to demand more of the company, too. But if Americans truly want a digital public forum centered on the needs of the citizenry, it has to be built and maintained the same way they’ve built and maintained America’s national parks—as public goods open to all."



Reclaiming the Internet
In the ’90s, American politicians sold off what was once a public good. Can a decent digital forum ever be built again?

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