In his recent manifesto, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has pleaded for building a global community. Facebook would of course be on the forefront to make this aim achievable, providing the world with the “social infrastructure” needed for such an ambitious task. The manifesto triggered an outpouring of criticism, especially by those working to find solutions outside of global corporate service provision.
Proponents of Community Informatics have long argued for digital technologies that would be in the full control of their users. Lately, the platform cooperativism movement has risen in reaction to the fact that the sharing economy is mostly benefiting the owners of and investors in the platforms they run on. Platform cooperativism brings back the idea of cooperativism to the digital age. The aim is to give users control and ownership of the tools they use. Examples like the #wearetwitter movement to get Twitter users to come together to buy Twitter also reflect the current general unease with corporate ownership of the platforms so many have come to rely on.
Despite all these valid criticisms as well as issues of privacy, security, data ownership, and even fake news, I can’t help but remind myself of the several self-organised movements and communities we have studied, been involved with, or simply followed: local organic food communities, urban gardening communities, grassroots urban planning movements etc… they have all started or at least have relied heavily on Facebook’s group feature, and many rely on the free tools provided by Google. Pauliina Seppälä, one of the founders of Yhteismaa ry, who has, among other things, launched the Cleaning Day phenomenon in Helsinki and from there to the world, is very clear about the catalysing role of Facebook: “I certainly would not have become active were it not for the Internet, and Facebook. Facebook has worked for me as the key communication device, where diverse groups of people have been able to join together in action so easily.” Without this easy way to publish information about one’s interests and sharing it with others, and getting others to join in the discussion and decision making, things would have been too complicated for these groups of people to do what they are now doing. So is Facebook a needed evil? Or should we all make the effort in joining a collective movement for creating and being in charge of our shared technologies? I believe that the answer is not a black or white one. However, what we need is to develop our digital and media know-how and become conscious and aware digital citizens that can confidently propose alternatives for a better world. Going back to the roots of Scandinavian participatory design, where concerns for software and democracy were intermingled, might provide a valid path.
This text is inspired by an article Joanna is currently working on with Adjunct professor Liisa Horelli from Aalto University.
Seppälä, P. (2012). Tiny social movements: Experiences of social media based co-creation. In A. Botero, A. Paterson, & J. Saad-Sulonen. Towards Peer-production in Public Services: cases from Finland. Helsinki: Aalto University. pp. 62-75