Geoffrey Goodell on Mon, 4 Nov 2019 15:04:09 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Facebook

Carsten -- well said, and thank you for the trenchant characterisation of the
problem and initial thoughts on how we might resolve it.  Your observation that
certain businesses have become infrastructure is spot-on.

I think you're also right to link the platform businesses [1] with privately
owned public spaces (POPS) in the urban planning context.  The problems are
similar.  A cash-strapped government cannot offer some essential service, and
the private-sector, channelling Andrew Carnegie, steps in to offer a 'solution'
that turns out to be essentially self-serving.  What would it take for some
government (in Europe or North America, say) to provide 'neutral'
infrastructure?  Would there be requests for proposals?  Would there be
standardisation committees?  Would this take decades?  The private sector,
fuelled by data harvesting revenues, can get it done faster.  And of course our
{city, province, nation, international alliance} needs to be competitive now,
lest we miss out when someone else wins the race, since Winners Take All [2]!

And the dangers don't stop here.  The following was overheard at an event on
financial crime hosted by the UK Financial Conduct Authority in August
concerning the Financial Action Task Force (FATF):

"Government does not create innovative solutions.  In a capitalist system, we
rely upon the private sector for that."

So does this mean that we will allow Facebook and Google to continue to operate
so long as they make sure that our financial cops have whatever they want?
Does this mean we pay those mercenary armies to do our dirty work for us,
collecting data revenues, paid by wealthy manipulators, as compensation since
our institutions are out of cash?

How can we unwire our institutions from this situation?  It seems politically
difficult, perhaps intractable.  We'll need to raise taxes.  We'll need to host
a conversation about infrastructure, power, and control.  We'll need to make
some decisions based on moral values, not just money or even data.  I'm not
sure we remember how to do that.

What do you think our first step should be?

Best wishes --


[1] I do not like the term 'tech giants' because (a) many firms that deal in
technology are not systematically contributing to the practices we are
discussing, (b) it fatalistically suggests an inseparable link between the
advance of technology and such practices, and (c) it misleadingly suggests that
the main problem with these businesses is their size, when in reality even
small businesses contribute directly to this problem.

[2] Anand Giridharadas, _Winners Take All_.  I strongly recommend it, not only
for its characterisation of Silicon Valley elites but also for its discussion
of why nationalism is back in vogue as a response to a global elite that has
shunned legitimate political processes.

On Mon, Nov 04, 2019 at 02:15:28PM +0100, Carsten Agger wrote:
> On 11/3/19 5:28 PM, Frederic Neyrat wrote:
> > Hi,
> >
> > I'd like to know if some people on this list - be they activists,
> > environmentalists, artists, thinkers, contributors - are (still) on
> > Facebook and if yes, why, being given the extreme noxiousness of this
> > "social" (?) network.
> >
> > This
> > article??
> > is not the reason of my email, but its occasion.
> >
> I use Facebook. I use it to keep up with some important networks, among
> others my local capoeira group is coordinating the training in a
> Facebook Group, so if I was not on it I wouldn't know if training is
> canceled etc.
> That illustrates a very important point:
> Your mileage may in vary according to your location and interests, but
> Facebook is no longer "just" a social network you can choose to use,
> it's the public communication infrastructure in a lot of contexts. To
> illustrate my point, two years ago I visited a revolutionary communist
> squat in Napoli, Italy, with graffitis and posters against the system
> and for a worker's revolution /everywhere/.
> Their online presence? A Facebook page.
> That means, that in general, the IT giants - Facebook, Google, to a
> lesser degree Twitter, Microsoft, definitely Amazon, Apple ... - are no
> longer just annoyances that people can avoid by their individual
> choices. I'm sorry to say that in some places even Uber, the
> ??ber-exploiters, has become basic infrastructure. :-( If we say to
> people they should not be on Facebook, never shop with Amazon, not use
> any Google services and not even think about touching any software
> provided by Microsoft (which I at least don't) or Apple, we should, at
> the same time, explain to them how they will get back a similar level of
> infrastructure.
> This monopolization and privatization of public space can't be broken by
> individuals choosing to be "on" or "not on", and it's pointless to
> believe it could. It should be solved on a structural level.
> Specifically, I think, by legislation and regulations, including a
> complete ban on collecting data for advertising purposes (goodbye
> Google, goodbye Facebook). If society fails to address the privatization
> of information infrastructure, it makes no sense to chide individuals or
> have them go without vital infrastructure. We could help people to
> different infrastructure, by supplying it and by educating, but this
> also requires dedicated resources - i.e., that's also a structural
> problem that has no relation at all to individual choices.
> And, also specifically, I don't think Facebook are worse than any of the
> other companies I mentioneded. I think Google is probably the one
> standing out as the truly worst and most ruthless of the bunch, but
> singling out Facebook makes no sense. At least, Facebook doesn't treat
> their workers as slaves, as Amazon does (or I assume they mostly don't).
> My own Facebook account lives it life dangerously and might indeed go in
> the near future - I could make some anonymous dummy one for the capoeira
> class, that would work. But I don't think that it would be an act of
> resistance against the evil social media empire, it would be down to
> personal annoyance and nothing else. For many people, deleting their
> social media would, as things stand, be tantamount to shooting
> themselves in the foot - and nothing else. Their is a potential war
> between decency, freedom and democracy and the likes of Facebook and
> Google, but it does not lie in people's individual choices of
> infrastructure.
> Best
> Carsten

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