Social Networking for a Better World



The rise of corporate-owned social media raises many flags about our online security and the future of the digital commons. The solution, says theorist Michael Albert, is a different kind of network altogether.   

In many ways, social media seem almost designed for activism. Efficient, user-friendly, and above all, inexpensive, sites like Facebook and Twitter are invaluable communication tools for any activist. Planning a rally outside a college president’s office? Create a Facebook group. Find a nifty guide to protesters’ rights online? Share it on Twitter. Worried about police brutality at an illegal march? Live-stream from your phone so more people can see what you see.

No shock that, “Twitter revolutions” aside, social media have undoubtedly played an important role in activism and social change over the past decade. In Egypt, the revolution in some ways began with Facebook groups like the 6 April Youth Movement and “We Are All Khaled Saaed.” Here in the U.S., it was a “We Are the 99 Percent” Tumblr page that gave many future participants their first glimpse of Occupy Wall Street—more than a full week before the first encampment in Zuccotti Park. Achievements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were of course about so much more than Facebook or Tumblr, but without social media they would likely have been very different movements.

Which, when you think about it, is probably the exact opposite of what the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world thought social media would do. So much of what sites like Twitter or Facebook are designed for, how they’re organized and governed, and how they make money, could not be further from ideals like social justice or goals like ending student debt. Many sites, like Facebook, even have a history of giving private data over to government agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

But here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s no law of nature that social media need to be run by giant corporations or that users need to put up with government spying and manipulative advertising. So, what’s the alternative?

Michael Albert, social theorist and co-editor of Z Magazine, has come up with one solution—and it’s worth taking a close look at. It’s called FaceLeft, and it embodies the very best of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but emphatically without the spying, concision, and commercialization users have long put up with. Ad-free, substantive, and as open or private as users want to make it, FaceLeft is the first social network designed by and for activists—or anyone who feels uncomfortable with corporate-owned social media.

Jill Friedman
7/22/2013 9:12:36 PM

this sounds wonderful but I don't understand how it will be kept private when we already know the government is spying on the entire world. Also, how many people will be kept off it by the fees? Minimal $3/mo might not seem like much to a person in the USA but for most of the world, that's more than they can afford. I know quite a few people even here in the USA that can't afford to get home internet access, they have to go to the library if they are REALLY interested, most times they can just do without going online, its too much trouble

Robert Weissfeld
7/22/2013 7:29:01 PM

FaceLeft is an unfortunate name, from one perspective. It suggests that all worthy activism comes from the left (most does, my bias admits) and forces populism, which can be bipartisan, to risk alienating anyone who does not take themselves to be 'left' from the start. I have an activist project that is aimed at anyone who doesn't own a health insurance company, but I would hesitate to use FaceLeft for that very reason.

Barbara Bendzunas
5/28/2013 3:02:28 PM

I am so glad to find this.

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