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<nettime> Towards a Non-facebook
Pit Schultz on Fri, 25 May 2018 04:43:47 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Towards a Non-facebook


Towards a Non-facebook
a pretext


The current facebook debate is a chance to get your act together and
get organized - just a little.

What does it mean to get dis-, re- or co-organized? To the worse, or
to the better? A further 'balkanisation', a migration to the
cryptoanarchist waste of resources, blockchain-nations as a refresh of
the independent cyberspace myth or the various academic art
conferences giving a place for certain representative counter
movements in order to map and neutralize them. The culture war is
probably a trap, allowing single career paths instead of lifting up
the standards on a larger scale. This counts especially for the branch
of critical media art, which has buffered away criticality from the
rest of the art world for too long. While often fruitful and
interesting on the lower layers, it gets thinner and weaker the higher
you get. The neoliberal call for self-diversification is a part of a
parapolitical neutralisation effort to keep away resistant forces from
where they could do real harm and lead to systemic change.


Synchronize and Change Facebook from Within

It is understandable to leave facebook because it is dull, depressing,
boring - but the same probably counts for your workplace, for the
compromise you had to make to rent an affordable flat and for the
places you need to go shopping or studying. Even if there are
alternatives in the physical urban world, the eco system of myriads of
websites, linux distros, apps you never have seen and tracks you never
will listen to is part of the long tail myth of consumerist choice.
Culturally, the unification under one media platform, such as the book
or the internet, has been revolutionary in terms of "consciousness
building". Today you are told that somewhere else, with a different
type of media, speech will be authentic and free again, just to stop
you from waking up and stating the obvious.

The existence of pluralism and diversity depends on the conditions of
the surrounding it derives from. The current platformization is adding
new application layers on top of the web. One can dream and fight for
a niche in between, or fight for the change and opening of these
platforms in fundamental terms of democratic design principles. Both
approaches have pros and cons. Since we have no better political
system architectures available, we could stick with embedded democracy
and discuss the specifications, when looking at the complete lack of
these features in todays online infrastructure.


Democratisation or Exodus as Hegemonial Choice

To run away from facebook headlessly and to leave it before being
censored, kicked out or shut off, is ill advised from a radical
democratic point of view. Maybe it would be possible, in a Gramscian
way, to doubt the absolutistic public sphere that facebook has
erected. But going along back to the alternatives, such as to the
municipal level of creative, digital and global cities, or to
speculative cryptoanarchist blockchain based currencies, or to the
ghost towns of abandoned homepages in the dark net, or to countless
masculinist linux projects which reinvented the wheel, as well as to
various counter-platforms that clone and modify the UX of facebook in
one or the other way, it turns out, that they have been proven as
dead-end devolutions. Compared to the mass consumerist wasteland of
facebook, they are still interesting tactical forms of excess. Due to
their false promise of offering a strategy and not just an
individualist tactical sidestep, these outside positions are certainly
not inherently better ones. Neither they are inherently bad - they're
just no solution. And they are certainly not politically or
theoretically smarter than trying to change facebook on facebook.

From a media theoretical point of view it seems blind to
#deletefacebook, since the deletion confirms, that facebook reduces
you to an effect of the medium. You can accept tacitly not to be able
to change the channel from within the channel, being in it debating
it, critiquing it, protesting against it or subverting it, or taking
any distanced meta position from within the medium. From a political
point of view, the spectrum of protest forms includes to excercise the
right to delete yourself (#loeschdich), and there are various existing
channels to discuss strategic common goals in the aftermath of the CA
scandal. Not to confuse the means of change with the goal itself, we
need to achieve more rights, more, or at least some, democratic
freedom, to transform this powerful platform in an exemplary way.
Instead of dispersing the platform into micropolitical niches which
ultimately risks to neutralize it´s potentials, we could form new
brilliant alliances of productive alienations.


Remain Strategy

By taking a virtual outside position, that can be e.g. excentric,
external, artistic or theoretical, one cannot neglect, that even the
most underprivileged and precarious existence will be impossible
outside of todays capitalist realism. Trying to escape the network
effects of facebook in an exemplary way will only be a symbolic move
of self-alienation and 'dark' independency. Leaving facebook weakens
the resistance against the platform on this platform. As a
representative function of the powerlessness and passivity in society,
flirting with the exodus, a hipsterist escapism or cocooning into the
digital diaspora will never make oneself less vulnerable, or free,
without forming collective agencies of real resistance: running
archives, sharing strange interests and hobbies, collecting and
filtering what has been easily neglected or forgotten. We seek
strategic alternatives for a planetary order, branching points and
possible future forks. Of course they can be developed on or off the
platform. But as an individual strategy, better don't fool yourself
believing that there's a safe zone of a pirate utopia reserved for you
in cyberspace.


Across the stack

Lets face the facts. Facebook is providing an application layer on top
of the web. It has a horizontal monopoly position when it comes to web
usage, as well as in the messenger and mobile social media space. To
propose free alternative solutions is politically and technically ill
advised. Alternatives that are based on a free and open clone approach
are rather doomed, due to the network effects. Diaspora, ello, vero
and various comparable approaches tried to operate next to facebook,
but there is not even a niche left for them. You need to expand to
specialized social networks such as linkedin for CVs and job related
stuff, and academia-edu or soundcloud etc. to pick up the crumbs. In
terms of surveillance features and data vampirism the business models
of these alternative platforms are rarely better than the one of
facebook. To tap into new network effects, either one is able to
vertically go down the stack to expand into physical appliances (smart
home) and/or protocols (p2p), or is able to go up the stack (ai driven
agents). With a new abstraction layer which will lead to the breakup
of the monopoly of facebook in terms of an open api as an opened
infrastructure, a democratized facebook fork can serve as a common
backend for new services. Like in Tim Berners-Lee solid project, for
autonomous bots and scrapers, as a social media layer to build new
stuff on top. Lately even google has given up to build a competitor to
facebooks quasi monopoly for instant messaging, going down and
sideways in the mobile stack to use SMS and no-internet messaging as a
base for a new app.


Interoperabilities, Design Change and Open Data Sheets

Even if the regulation will achieve some changes of the api´s,
interoperability will not be able to replicate the complexities of one
system onto the other without a more radical approach.
Interoperability as the lowest common denominator of regulatory
efforts represents the misunderstanding of today's infrastructures by
the "other" culture, using railway or telephony metaphors. Only in
combination with an underlay of an open architecture that provides
open source, open data and open datasheets, forks will be possible, as
well as federated spin-offs. Unfortunately it is precisely the
api-based third party eco-system which will get restricted after the
CA case. Interoperability as a means of capitalist appeasement is used
in industries such as the military industry, to have heterogenically
existing systems work together. In computer hardware, such as the PC,
the interoperability is achieved by open standards. In software
architecture it is called legacy and a migration or a replacement is
often easier to achieve. The same counts for the keyword "algorithm".
Algorithms do not make much sense without data structures, and the
property relations they construct.

The way our data, attention, and labor online is defined is much more
presented in the specifications of data sets, the modelling of
input-output relations, and not merely visible in the implementations
of running code, e.g. the algorithms. by demanding access to the
documentation of the design process, the iterative, agile but
nevertheless non-democratic development cycles within social media
companies become debateable. the strategies, and use case modelling
will be much more revealing than merely fetishizing the code itself,
countering the assumed power, with a fetishisation of jurisdiction.
both law and code are not the most effective levels of control. in
order to change the companies one must try to understand their
organisational models, their design process and decision structure
first.

Demanding transparency for algorithms alone, just presents the
limitations of digital literacy today. 30 years after the internet has
been introduced and 70 years after the computer has been invented. So,
instead of talking about acceleration one must talk about education.
Besides the documentation of a systems architecture and of it´s
specifications and source code, as well a full documentation of it´s
"datasheets", the metadata describing the datastructures on all levels
of the architecture are necessary demands. Without them the
interoperabilty as well as a regulatory approach to algorithms are ill
fated forms of cross-cultural intermediation, which rather establish
bureaucratic bodies of agency, that are open to lobbyism and
obstruction of all kinds.


Embedded Democracy

Facebook combines as well a few known design patterns, such as
"portal", the good old "collaborative filtering", as we called it in
the old nettime footer, as it is taking thread based use cases that
are known from usenet and compuserve to provide the annotated web that
has been promised in the 90ies. The problem behind the current privacy
debacle is the property issue: 'no commercial use without permission'
is as problematic as the complete lack of democractic functionality
within the platform. A deindividuation of social media, as Benjamin
Bratton has proposed, would be accompanied with new options to reset
the priorities.

An individualist liberal movement comes with tactical sidesteps and
preferes issues of smaller group identification before larger common
goals. It is not that the bias of algorithms is not a problem, but it
is embedded into a larger analysis of power including the data
structures, the system architecture, flaws in laws and regulation,
exploitative business models and various forms of discriminatory bias
in the engineering process, often due to a lack of governance in terms
of transparency and accountability. On the other hand, a new
universalism even if proposed by facebook is the plane on which today's
earth problems need to be understood and solved globally. The promise
of equality this platform offers and a certain degree of neutrality of
the interface layers are a cultural potential to build on, to change
from within, modify and fork, and politicize against. Dreaming about
building your own little world on the side is fruitless if it is not
connected to a larger political fight of changing the architecture of
power and property mediated by the internet. Nevertheless, tacit forms
of protest, as isolatory, antiproductive or escapistic they might
appear, should not be condemned. As the change of these platforms is a
long term goal which can be fought for on and off these platforms in
various ways.


Facepedia

A more object oriented social network is possible, where subjects
group around issues, goals, projects, events and the individual is not
just the ultimate product in the center of the social graph any more.
A combination of models known from wikipedia and mozilla, non profit
coops with more democratic functionality in iterative design cycles,
such as bug trackers, eternal logs, transparency of documentation.
Democratic design principles known since a long time need to be
formulated, discussed and implemented. The discourse of regulatory law
as well as ethical commissions will not prevent the next levels of
alienation, surveillance and oppression that are coming with machine
learning and big data driven AI. The economic inequality and the
property relation should be the first common issue beyond all minority
based struggles, to connect various fights and not obey to the
framings and neutralising offers of centrist liberalism.

Recently it has been calm around a defense of the commons. The
liberalisation of open data has lead to a pipeline of structured data,
going directly from the foundations of wikipedia to google graph and
deep mind. Wikidata, a project funded by google, is not combined with
a new license which would compensate for the billions of dollars worth
of human labour. These are now used to train AI, and structure and
enhance search results. The social factory of facebook, as well as
amazon, google, and any other larger commercial online platforms will
turn to a model of commodifying and monetizing data by feeding it
value extraction methods that are run by machine learning algorithms.
The underlaying proprietization of data is the central strategic point
to attack.

The french AI proposal by Cédric Villani is a great chance for a
radical defense of open data, not just along the values of Diderot and
Alembert. All training data for machine learning should be put under a
new kind of data-GPL-license which is free for non-commercial or
scientific use. But forces companies which make profit to recompensate
the commons, probably using blockchain methods, and become accountable
in terms of reproducible trainings that are lacking methods of
debugging and controlling AI.


Press Pause, Get Organized and Strike!

It has been a few years ago now, that Tizinana Terranova has proposed
the red stack. Burak Arikan has proposed a formalisation of unpayed
online labour. Tomazo Tozzi has proposed the netstrike in 1995.
Richard Barbrook and me have written a manifesto for the digital
artisan. There are plenty of people who are concerned and interested
in possible and exemplary changes of facebook here and now.
Theoreticians, activists, journalists, artists... Until now there is
hardly a place where they join, filter and exchange relevant texts and
get self-organized a little more.
A strike or #facebreak might be still a valid form of protest, of
demanding forms of governance on facebook and as a manifestation of
not wanting to be governed in such a way. As proposed above, I will
suspend my account from 25th of may to 1st of june 2018.

In the meantime let's work on a list of demands, as in democratic
design changes, to facebook and other platforms.

Lets call it #non-facebook.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/217513475509054/
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