"In a moment I'm going to ask you to support the most unusual campaign we have ever launched -- but first, some background.
Facebook, the social networking website, is getting a lot of attention these days. In the trade union movement, there are differences of opinion about how useful Facebook actually is. Some of us are making a real effort to find out by using Facebook as an organizing tool.
One of them is senior LabourStart correspondent Derek Blackadder, from Canada. Derek's day job is as a staffer for the country's largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He's one of the people who thinks Facebook is potentially quite useful for trade unionists.
Well, maybe not so much anymore.
You see, a few days ago, Derek was banned from Facebook.
I'll let John Wood from the U.K. tell the story in his own words:
Derek got a note from the good book, telling him he was trying to add too many friends, and should calm down a bit, or else. Now as a union organiser, he’s quite likely to want to add lots of friends - it’s kind of what he does. So he waits a bit and tries again, and is told he can’t add any more at the moment and to wait and try later. Fair enough. He waits a bit more and tries again, same message. By now, he’s probably frothing at the mouth and muttering "must organise, must organise", so he has another go to see if the coast is clear, and promptly gets himself a ban. That being a ban from Facebook itself - no more profile, no access to the stuff he’s built up, no appeal.
We know that this isn't nearly as important as most of the other campaigns we do on LabourStart -- and if you read all of John's article you'll detect a somewhat light-hearted tone.
Still, as social networks become more and more important, our access to them as trade unionists must be protected. These are early days yet -- I know that most of you are not yet signed up to Facebook. This is good time to see whether we can mobilize the kind of support -- the thousands of names -- that will force the owners of Facebook to reverse course and allow Derek to do what he does so well: organize.
Thanks for your help on this. And spread the word! "
I'm sorry to say that this is probably one of those private vs public space things, and is a losing battle; fundamentally flawed. Facebook is and will always be used for advertising. The connections Derek is using to build up in his Facebook profile aren't owned by Derek in the way that he owns his email address book. Facebook owns every single one of those connections and addresses, Derek just uses them - working for free to maintain and add to them. Facebook plans to flog those connections to advertisers looking to micro-advertise to every one of Derek's thousands and thousands of "friends". Unfortunately, the more people Derek connects with, the broader those micro-connections become and the less defined Facebook's advertising scheme becomes. Someone could send their ads to everyone on Derek's Facebook list, only half of whom would care about it.
Also, Facebook doesn't really want to support anyone running around using it for causes that might upset their advertising dollar. Thousands of friends? All connected via one degree? The huge web he has created is perfect in that one sense, it means that it guarantees an advertising demographic all roughly similar and more likely to be susceptible to specific forms of advertising (a Facebook group of people who all fancy china collectables will be perfect for targeted advertising from eBay about collectables auctions, for example).
But a huge group of people from a public employee's union?
What do unions buy as a group? Nothing!
More importantly, what do unionists like to buy as individuals? Nothing!
What is the purpose of the union's existence? To cause trouble for capitalists and employers!
Capitalists and employers are the ones who spend bucks at Facebook to have their advertising go to just the right kind of people. Unions aren't full of the right kind of people. They are full of the Wrong Kind of People who tend to save and think rather than spend and drool thoughtlessly in front of a computer (on average).
Derek is running into the same problems one might have were they attempting to set up a protest march in a shopping mall - it's a privately-run business. They can just call the cops and chuck you out whenever you want! (See Naomi Klein's No Logo for a more detailed discussion of the loss of public spaces if you can really be bothered). Just because Facebook exists on that great modern equaliser, The Internet, doesn't mean it's democratic in even the slightest sense.
Frankly, I'm surprised that a union organiser bought the hype over Facebook. It's not a social networking site, like all it's advertising and spin says it is. It is a social categorising site that uses networking as a front for gaining a high-definition picture of each and every consumer group. You feed on the sweet sweet endorphins of fleeting popularity while you hook your life up to the machine so that as your Facebook page grows with friends and groups and causes, so does the information via which Facebook can make money of you for free. It is an utterly flawed tool for union organising, like slipping rally leaflets into mass-delivered junk mail. Unionism is about the people organising themselves to combat exploitation and to guard their rights. But what good is it when the entire communication network is owned by a single, privately-owned company, whose conditions for use are inherently exploitative?
Stick to the emails, Derek.
GTH - River skewered Guess The Header for last entry - they were indeed votive candles in a Catholic Church (Notre Dme Cathedral). This post's competition is more like homework than Where's Wally. The riddle runs thus: how does the title relate to the post? It's quite cryptic and involves a few jumps. Clue? Start with a TV show theme ...