Issue #018 Published: 16-06-2018 // Written by: Florian Cramer

# Leaving Facebook for good - or just for virtue signaling?

Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and popular political tv comedian Arjen Lubach, Dutch people are now on the forefront of breaking up with Facebook. On April 16th, activists of the _Facebook Liberation Army_ organized a Facebook break-up party in Amsterdam, their second after 2015, rehashing Dutch WWII resistance rhetoric to call upon people to join its ranks. 

No doubt that Facebook deserves this. In a recent _Volkskrant_ article, a former worker for the company whose (minimum-wage) job it was to delete offensive content, blew the whistle on Facebook’s irresponsible policies towards its members and staff. Among others, he disclosed that the Netherlands are Europe’s capital of online racism and hate, and that company policies had prohibited him from doing something about death threats against activists like Sylvana Simons. 

But Facebook is structurally no different from other Internet giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Spying on and selling out its users is the way the industry works. (User tracking tends to be even worse on news media websites than on the social networks.) It makes no sense to single out Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when, figuratively speaking, the whole Internet is Cambridge Analytica. Leaving Facebook for another mainstream social network is like ditching one’s Volkswagen after the Diesel scandal in favor of another manufacturer’s diesel or gasoline car.

Leaving Facebook, but staying on commercial social media (including Facebook-owned Whatsapp and Instagram) is thus simply ridiculous. 

Just as the alternative to a Volkswagen is not another car, but a bike and public transport, meaningful alternatives to Facebook and the corporate social media do exist. Diaspora is a non-commercial, decentralized, Open Source social network that provides the functionality of Facebook (still without events and groups, but with much better support for longer text postings and a less distracting user interface). It works surprisingly well - but only lacks a critical mass of users. Mastodon is a non-commercial, decentralized, Open Source social network meant to replace and even improve on Twitter, because it has well-designed functions for self-organized communities and against hate speech trolling. On top of that, both these networks are ad-free and don’t use opaque algorithms to filter people’s feeds.

Such alternatives should be better promoted, with honest explanations of their pros and cons vis-a-vis Facebook, Twitter & company. Running decentral servers for Diaspora (called “pods”) and Mastodon (called “instances”) could be a worthy project for a renewed digital community media activism in a city that, more than twenty years ago, had been the pioneer of self-organized social media with _De Digitale Stad_ Amsterdam. 

But even if that should happen, it will not solve the Cambridge Analytica problem: If everyone used Open Source networks or returned to blogging and homepages, their public content can and will still be data-mined by third parties. The deeper issue is therefore political: existing privacy legislation isn’t enforced, and (just like bank managers before and after 2008) Silicon Valley managers don’t end up in the prisons where they belong. Conversely among users, there needs to be more critical awareness that one should never post anything personal or private online which one wouldn’t also share on a public medium.

Without thinking through these issues, the current Facebook farewell activism will likely end up being just as ineffective as the Post-Snowden crypto activism of the last few years and Linux install parties before that. Facebook-quitters will likely rejoin the network after a hiatus, if they haven’t stayed on Whatsapp and Instagram anyway. With too much symbolic campaigning and virtue signaling, the current Anti-Facebook wave is doomed to remain a storm in the teapot.

Florian Cramer is a reader in 21st century visual culture at Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam and member of the core team of Rotterdam BIJ1.