Thursday, January 24, 2008

Woke up this morning/Got email from Mum ...

This morning I received the following email forward from my mum, who receives many of these kind of things:

"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.

John has launched a Facebook group to sign people up to protest the ban on Derek. I am writing to ask each and every one of you to take a moment and sign up to join the group. If you are not yet signed up on Facebook, join the 60,000,000 others who have done so and sign up.

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 ...


  1. Interesting argument, franzy. There are, as you've indicated here, an awful lot of union organisers who are hoping you're wrong. As Pradeep said in comments on my blog, the effectiveness of networking via sites like facebook or myspace is hugely bigger than other means:

    "1. Number of ways in which N-people can communicate:

    In case of TV communication grows as N (Sarnoff's law).

    In case of email or phone, communication grows as N*(N-1) or
    N^2 (Metcalf's law).

    The communication grows even faster for social networking sites
    (facebook, myspace) 2^N -N -1 (Reed's law)."

    I don't really know what that means but it kind of puts numbers to why facebook etc are attractive to organisers.

    As for the title: The Sopranos / organised crime / union organisers. OR It was inevitable that Tony Soprano would be erased from teh human race in the end.

  2. Yeah - call me a purist, but I think relying on a form of mass communication owned by a small group with absolute control is leaving oneself vulnerable and could negate the advantages of such a widespread and powerful communication tool.

    OR union is about sharing the power possessed by the few among the many, but Facebook is almost the reverse of this philosophy: it assimilates the powers of many (to communicate, organise, etc) and effectively owns the means by which they are used, or, in Derek's case, not used. Like if a single private company owned all the telephones and telephone lines. Piss them off? Do something they don't agree with? No phone for you! Ever!

  3. Ha! Experienced the wrath of Telstra have you?
    Reading these two comments makes me feel like such a dumbo.
    Wish I'd stayed in school and learned more big words.
    Wonder if the dictionary makes good bedtime reading?

  4. I actually agree with Franzy. My (mis)use of FB was intended as a test. Look for some reports on my analysis of what happened in The Tyee and Our Times.

    One important cavea though: workers are themselves using sites like FB for self-organizing. Getting together online to rant about their employers. It's a problem in a bunch of ways, as the Halifax casino organizing campaign demonstrated when FB responded to a threatening letter from the casino's lawyers and pulled the whole group off.

  5. Good points by all - FB is a useful tool for small groups (my personal memberships being, at this stage, my local karate group and a red wine lovers' site), but has the potential to generate lots of interesting discussions. Having a space to vent about work conditions, seek advice on toxic bosses will really only ever be useful if the info put down is unable to be traced to an individual and not put their job at risk. I don't believe FB would be all that interested in such privacy tactics

    Also, since joining FB I've not only seen a tripling of the always-longed-for 'MAKE LONG YOUR SCHLONG' junk mails but it's tempting to goof off and waste far too much time. After all, how many of us really want to know which Spice Girl we are?

  6. On the topic of generally good social ideas made dirty by commercialism:

    Go to youtube and search for "tube thriller". Select the "ORIGINAL" post (I'd post the link but am at work and can't access the youtube site from here).

    What you will see is a great display of public theatrics - but it is sullied by actually being a viral ad campaign.

    Is nothing sacred anymore???!!

    I'm starting to think that I don't really need to breathe - I only do it because some clever air seller has convinced me that it is the cool thing to do... Well they're not going to make any more money out of this little black duck!! ***GASP***


  8. I've boiled-down my experiences of FB as an organizing tool here:


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32