Facebook and Contestation

Where did it starts?

This post is the result of a discussion I had with @ElodieChatelais, @jujusete and @oOBaNOo following the publication of an article on indymedia written by NADIR (the piece is here. This article, a bit harsh but hey activists can be harsh, expose the implication of using Facebook to plan the contestation.

The context in which it has been publicized is the occupation of the ZAD in the NDDL airport battle (because,yes, it looks like a battle).

There is, in fact, two problems at stakes here. The first one is the question of the tool used to plan and organise a contestation or a social movement that can lead to repression from a form of government (may it be civilized or not). The second one is the communication around a manifestation, this communication is a necessity to give a movement some momentum.

The people I’m talking with about those issue generally says that they use Facebook, even if they know the so called danger, because everyone is doing it and because there’s no time to develop new tools to communicate,it’s time to fight.

And, as you may expect it, I disagree with that.

What exactly is Facebook

Facebook is a tool. It’s not a place (for it has no physical boundaries), so people aren’t on Facebook – they are connected or not. It’s a tool that is, apparently, good at building and growing social networks and bonds. It’s a tool that is, apparently, good to propagate idea and memes.

It is supposed to be the perfect tool to organise your private life except that it is a lot of thing, except private. Facebook is the biggest database of consumering habits and the biggest maps of social network that have ever existed. It is run by a private corporation whose only goal is to monetize your privacy by selling it to everyone who is willing to pay for it.

Let’s be clear about that, Facebook is to freedom what arsenic is to life. Facebook don’t want you to leave their pages, they want to know exactly where you’re going, who you’re talking with and what you’re talking about. They want to control what is said, what has been said and they want to keep a log of everything, even if you’ve deleted it. They even have personal profile and data collections about people who do not even have an account. If,at any time, a form of government asks you to wear a GPS enabled device, to permanently wear a voice recorder, and to asks an ID for everything you’re doing (from reading newspaper, to shopping) you will call it a fascist state,but that’s why Facebook is doing. They’re gathering data about your habits online, and you do not even know what they know about you (also, they also possess all the content you’ve generated on their websites).

So yes, Facebook is a poison.


So, organisation. If you’re plotting something on Facebook, they will know about it. I mean, you’re gonna use a platform that keeps deleted personal messages, do not hash those messages (granting the ability to read them), is centralized and closed, and maps social networks for profit.

Imagine a government wanted to infiltrate a social network,Facebook provides them with the perfect tool. They can create profiles and join your social group quite easily. They can probably forces Facebook to collaborate and to just give them all the data they got on you – which is way too much.

So, organising yourself for something that can bring to repression is endangering yourself as well as all the other ones implied, even if they’re not using Facebook. By the only fact that one person is using it among the people who tries to organises themselves put the whole organisation at risk.

I’ve been told that Facebook is a good way to authenticate the people you’re speaking with. Well, it does not protect yourself from impersonation, someone stealing, or building, an identity that they will later uses to infiltrate your network – But it’s not a Facebook related issue – and it’s not a proof of authenticity. A session can be hijacked, a password can be stolen, etc. The only way you have to authenticate is cryptography (using a pre-shared secret) and Facebook does not provides tool for that.

You need to organise your contestation. You do not need Facebook for that. What you need is tools that will be usable, decentralized and free – as in freedom. They exist, you do not need to build them. Pick one, there are wikis, communication server (think jabber for instance), platforms such as https://kune.cc (based on Wave) or https://riseup.net already exists and are tailored for paranoid activists (well, each activists should be paranoid).

If you’re not in total and full control of your communication link, it means that your communication link is controlling you and your organisation. And the only way to get in total control of those links is for them to be free and decentralized (and, in the ideal case, to be run by each and everyone on his personal home box).


The other issue is communication. Protesting, disobeying, contesting is, in fine, a communication issue. You will need communication to tell other people what you’re doing and why and, since you’re convinced you’re on the good side, to try to convince them to join you, to develop your movement.

So, you need to reach out. And to go where people are. The common mistakes is to publish your content on Facebook. By doing so, you’re doing two things. First, you give a non revocable, non exclusive licence on your content to Facebook. Second you centralise all the information in one site.

When Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web, he designed a handy tool to help the sharing of information. This tool is the hyperlink. It grants to someone the possibility to go from one website to another one by just following a link. No registration system, no directory system, just the URL describing the resource to go onto. Facebook tries to discourage this (because most of the interaction done is made by like of Facebook hosted content) and so Facebook tries to destroy the basis of the Web.

Hypertext is all that is needed to propagate information. This text as a Uniform Resource Locator (yeah, URL) and that’s all what you need to access it. A content on Facebook requires you to have an account to access it.

But, people are on Facebook you’re going to tell. Well, no. People arein their houses. They’re not on Facebook. You can reach them with so much tools that I won’t count them. Also, I’m not sure that seeing a like (one among so many others) on a wall will create implication. Evgeny Morozov has wrote some good pieces about slacktivism and you should read it.

I do believe that, when I reach out to people, I’m best in the flesh, having a casual talk with my inner circle friends. They’re the people I have most influence on, and this is mutual (hell, friends exist for a reason: manipulate them and being manipulated by them). It won’t take me long top have ten more people fighting a cause (maybe an evening, perhaps two) when having a discussion. To get this same results on any social media (and I do not mean 10 likes, I mean 10 people that will do something), it will takes me way much more works.

I do not think you need Facebook to get momentum and to motivate people. You do not need Facebook to have media coverage. You do not need Facebook to change the world. You do not need a megaphone to speak –
even if that’s classy – you need arguments, idea, and freedom. Facebook can’t provides any of them.