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Previous post: Facebook Revolt

The Platform Ghost

Having joined Facebook and posted all their relationships to it, users now found themselves hostages to the platform. Sure, they could delete their account and they would not lose their friends, but they might lose contact with acquaintances they had met and shared experiences with in the past, due to life changes, distance, and the passage of time. Moreover, users would lose visibility; that is, even if they never posted anything to Facebook, friends would notice they had left, and might wonder why or take it personally (even when they explained that they had left because they objected to Facebook on moral and ethical grounds), until those who left were eventually forgotten. Because the sad reality is that through their intermediary function and material focus, the IT industry in general, and social networks such as Facebook in particular, have isolated us from each other emotionally in the physical world, with the result being that if we don’t have an online presence, our face-to-face relationships are threatened.

 

Clearly, the novelty of IT industry left many flat-footed in the face of the new threats it presented to their privacy, their real world networks, and their identity. Consequently, when people discovered the truth of Facebook’s business model, their initial response to the company’s cynicism and lack of accountability was shock and inaction. Facebook bet that once people invested time in maintaining their relationships online on the company’s proprietary platform, once they created picture and video archives of their life events, they would be reluctant to leave the site and delete their account. Facebook, the company, hoped that with time we would forget that our friendships exist independent of their network. From the beginning, the company’s plan was to co-opt our networks in order to turn us and our friends into products.

 

Facebook’s implied threat is that if we leave their network, we will lose our friends and consequently cease to exist. But that is not the case. In spite of the IT industry’s attempt to convince us that platforms are the source of our relationships, the reality is that we create our own networks through the people we interact with and friends we make in the real world. This important point, which is really just a common sense fact, is something we need to remember and one that puts all the hype of the “value” of social networks in the proper perspective. The value of social media, like the value of democracy, comes from the people, not the platform. If everyone deleted their Facebook accounts tomorrow, this point would become starkly clear. Aside from a database with a user interface and operational algorithms, platforms such as Facebook provide us with nothing that we haven’t already created ourselves.

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