By Kevin Mathews
Sep 18, 2013
In recent years, Facebook has become an unexpectedly crucial tool for activism. The social media platform allows activists to efficiently connect and communicate with one another in order to arrange meetings, protests and boycotts. Unfortunately, activists who once found that Facebook helped make organizing easier are now encountering obstacles – and the resistance is coming from Facebook itself.
With little explanation, Facebook has been disabling pages related to activism. In some cases, administrators who set up the pages are no longer able to add updates. In others, the pages are being deleted entirely. Understandably, activists are frustrated when a network of 10,000 like-minded individuals is suddenly erased, leaving no way to reconnect with the group.
Realistically, that’s the downside of relying on a hundred billion dollar company. Facebook is a pro-business enterprise with countless partnerships that undoubtedly pressure the site to limit the types of socializing progressives may engage in, particularly activities that might harm advertisers’ profits.
For example, this year’s March Against Monsanto events have been popular with people across the globe, but not Facebook. An upcoming invitation for a rally in St. Louis, Missouri where Monsanto is headquartered was wiped clean from the social networking site. The administrator of the event received a very unspecific notice that the event “violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” yet it is not clear how the event would have violated any terms. What is clear, however, is that Monsanto advertises on Facebook and may have had some influence on the matter.
When the “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” group became extremely popular, employees at Facebook didn’t erase the page, but effectively shut it down anyway by putting severe restrictions on it. Not only was the page’s creator unable to edit or update the page, followers of the page could no longer start new discussions or post links and videos. A similar page that called for a boycott on BP was also rendered similarly useless after receiving the same posting constraints.
In these two cases, Facebook personnel explained that the boycott pages did not meet the Terms of Service since they did not represent a person or corporate entity. “To protect people from spam and other unwanted content, we restrict pages that represent ideas or positions – rather than discrete entities – from publishing stories to people’s News Feeds,” said a spokesperson.
Surely the nearly one million BP boycott fans wouldn’t consider updates from the page “unwanted,” particularly when they chose to follow the page in the first place. They’re calling for protection from oil spills, not spam. By claiming that corporate pages fit in well on Facebook, but anti-corporate pages have no place, the site’s stance is quite clear.
As civil rights activist Audre Lorde wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Perhaps we’ve been naïve to believe that using a platform created by a corporate entity would help activists to break free from corporate oppression. While moving away from Facebook seems inevitable for some activists, it’ll certainly have some consequences for at least the short term. Because Facebook is so ubiquitous and its members tend to check in multiple times a day, it makes reaching a wide audience fairly simple.
That said, having proven its value in mobilizing people, social media will continue being a pivotal strategy for activists, with or without Facebook. As Facebook continues to align more firmly with sponsors rather than users, you can expect to see more revolutionaries to join alternative internet communities to promote their causes. In the future, sites like Care2.com [and Films For Action] will be even more crucial in achieving positive social change.