Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dangers of Facebook Activism

A lot of us are addicted to using Facebook. And why not? Its fun. Its easy to use and it brings you together with friends. You can instantly update your social circle with your opinions and hear there comments. Its a great way to spread ideas.

Recently Facebook has seen attention as a focal point for anti-state protesters. At least as reported. It's use has been mentioned in the Tunisian, Egyptian and most all other Middle East uprisings. There is no doubt that Facebook is an extremely powerful tool for dissent. However, there is a danger to using it.

Facebook is a private company, and as such it reserves the right to remove any page it wishes. This was recently shown when a page calling for protests in Palestine was taken down at the request of the Israelis.

Entitled "Third Palestinian Intifada," the page had more than 350,000 fans before it was taken down. Facebook didn't comment the removal on Tuesday.

While this is obviously an example of suppression tactics by Israel, and willing acquiescence on the part of Facebook, we should analyze the effects of this act. 350,000 people from all over the world who had come together for a cause have lost the thing that linked them. The effort is mostly wasted. At most the participants have probably broken off into smaller groups with no way of communicating with each other. This is a huge blow to the protest effort.

Because Facebook is a centrally controlled and managed social space, it suffers from censorship. There is no need to feel angry about it, this is just the way things are. It would have been safer if the page were hosted on an external server. This is not completely foolproof either. It would be much harder to maintain anonymity (and therefore safety). There is no completely safe place which is also highly accessible. But at least it might have suffered a bit less from the influence of a central authority. Support for the page could still have been accomplished using Facebook and the health of the page itself would not be dependent on the whims of Zuckerberg and Co.

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