Facebook, Privacy, and Organizing

May 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm (Actions, Things) (, , , , , )

Dude. *Everyone* is freaking about about Facebook. Seriously. I mean, the NY Times is publishing multiple stories and info-graphics about it. People are attempting to delete their profiles. It’s crazy!

And while all this talk has caused me to question my participation in the social networking giant, there are two things I want to talk about – the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and how Facebook has impacted activism.


The recent privacy changes at Facebook have inspired an unusually high volume of really great reporting on the subject:

Long before that, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was raising the red flags high (like these posts from December and April. I mean, no one else was talking about this in December).

I’m pointing this out, first, to gather all those great infographics above, but second, to once again herald the work of the EFF. They’ve consistently worked to protect the rights and privacy of individuals everywhere and I support them with my $ and hope you do too. Plus, you should follow their site to learn about non-Facebook important things. Really important things. Like wire tapping. And surveillance. And digital rights. And, and, and… So, donate here.

OK. What else can you do? Quit Facebook. Jason Kucsma (remember him?) posted some account-deleting resources here. Or, if you’re going to keep using it, use this nifty “privacy scanner” to check your settings.

Where are people going? Twitter. Tumblr. Maybe we’ll see a resurgence in blogging? Who knows at this point.

Facebook & Organizing

Although Facebook is great for getting the word out about things and helping stuff like the Bad Hotel flash mob go viral, for the most part it contributes to the trend of lazy organizing, which has certainly been helped along over the last few years by the reliance on email as a primary form of communication among organizers.

It’s happened to us all. We get “event invitations” to events arranged on Facebook, which are really like mass spam emails we used to send. In my work as a publicist, I have found that personalized emails and phone calls are always best, and experienced organizers know this too. Want to turn people out to an event/rally/picket? Call them or email them a personal email about why you think they should be there, even if you’re just saying “this thing is important to me I hope you can attend.” I learned this early on when I went to the 1996 Active Resistance Conference and met all these great activists from all over the U.S. – I asked why they came so far, and they said it was because someone from the organizing committee had called and asked them to. Oh yeah, right. People prefer actual interactions to mass emails. We all like to be treated as individuals and as if our presence somewhere matters (and usually, it does matter).

The beauty of the Facebook “event,” and the whole basis of sites like Evite, is that people like to go with the crowd and they like to be with their friends. So once you’ve organized (i.e. called and directly emailed) a bunch of people to get them to agree to come and they’ve posted it on one of those sites, their friends will be more likely to go too. And yes, sometimes mass emailing is enough to get some people there – but to really do your due diligence on an event or action, putting the leg work in is still essential.

And what else? I’ve been increasingly nervous & increasingly interested in the volume of political conversations that have been happening on Facebook. Like, when there’s a political action of some sort and people start writing all these comminiques and essays about what was good and bad about it, and people are having *serious* discussions. Like, real ones where people disagree and agree and learn new things. I like that, but I have been increasingly frustrated that those conversations are happening in a private space owned by a corporation where not everyone can participate (like, if you don’t have a FB account you can’t participate). I think this speaks more to the lack of venues for this type of discussion, including the lack of radical and progressive-left media outlets that publish a lot of information and opinions. I mean, Left Turn and Upping the Anti are great but they are also just a drop in the bucket of the volume of things people want to talk about. How Where do we have these real conversations about strategy and tactics and how to build movements for social change?


  • Facebook isn’t all there is to worry about. Check this HuffPo piece on Google collecting private data over WiFi connections.
  • If you use FB, please don’t invite me to events that are happening in cities I don’t live in. It means that not only did you not spend the time to personally invite me (or anyone) to your event, it means you didn’t even bother to go through your friend list to find people who were appropriate for the event. Like really? You couldn’t even do that?
  • Am I leaving Facebook? Um, right now I’m purging a bunch of info and seriously curtailing what I’ve been posting there (other than cupcake photos, of course), because I still think it’s useful. We’ll see how that develops.


  1. Jen Angel said,

    OMG – I totally forgot to include this link about Facebook, from Mother Jones: You May Be More Public Than You Think

  2. Stanley said,

    I left FB a few weeks ago. It ultimately came down to vision. Facebook’s vision for the web (a walled garden open to corporate partners by default) is opposed to my own (decentralized content with creators in control).

    It didn’t make sense to contribute all that time and energy toward a vision that I didn’t believe in.

    Although if Facebook didn’t allow mass event invitations and Mafia Wars, I might have been able to grin and bear it. :)

  3. Jen Angel said,

    That’s a totally great point, Stan, about whether FB (or anything) is part of the vision we want for the future. I mean, there are tons of things that I do that don’t fit into my vision of the future, but seeking was to minimize those compromises is important.

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