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Citizens, Not Robots

Facebook doesn’t help us communicate or make a living because we are Facebook’s products and so are our friends. Many people (artists, freelancers, and entrepreneurs in particular) who saw in Facebook an opportunity to spread the word about their work and to get more people to support it were no doubt disappointed when “likes” did not translate into sales. Given that the online world is an integral part of modern commerce, and the fact that scale is necessary for success, it is problematic that Facebook is not useful for its users to conduct business. Instead, Facebook created a network that prioritizes the convenient and superficial representation of status so that the company itself could profit from user data, while intentionally sidelining the sincere communication and quality work users would like to share directly with their friends and acquaintances, which the company cannot profit from.


Note that on their website the company states, “Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.” Interestingly enough, the company doesn’t claim to be a network, nor does it claim to help people communicate or prosper, which is what networks do and have always done. No, Facebook only “connects people,” in the way that people are connected in a database where their individuality is reduced to set of data points that can be used for marketing purposes. This is the “utility” part of their product statement, utility for them, not you.


In a self-referential world where people are increasingly absorbed in broadcasting the facts of their lives, and where platforms, apps and other IT aggregators mine and appropriate our personal information for their own profit, many are discouraged from spending the time and effort to produce quality work or to engage in real dialogue with their friends and the community. That should not be the case. We must fight attempts by Facebook in particular, and the IT industry in general, to coopt our relationships, eliminate our privacy, destroy our individuality, and turn us into robots programmed by our material preferences. As citizens of a democracy, we must to continue to create, debate, solve problems, conduct business, and otherwise interact with each other in our communities. This can only be done outside of the Facebook network, and independent of for-profit, third party, social media.

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