Alternatives to Facebook and Why


Online Organizing Introduction

People are in love with Facebook(FB).  And heroin addicts are in love with heroin, but that doesn’t mean that its right.  This presentation doesn’t suggest that you should stop all FB relations with close friends and family.  However, it does suggest that activists stop exposing their networks to corporate snooping, move real discussions, strategy and all but recruiting and a shell of the best of our PR content off of that site.  Such a move could also mean a far more organized set of resources can be setup that dramatically reduces the general chaos that is embedded in FB’s basic design that actually hampers real expansion of this movement or for that matter the interests of Non-Profit groups that are involved as well.

There are a number of presentations posted, by tab that are must reads.  There are many different segments of the anti-nuclear community that have started to rely on FB to do its primary organizing with. Its time that people realize that there is a better place to do this and there are urgent reasons why.  FB, Google and other corporate driven Social media sites expect that you divulge who you are and actually hold your personal connectivity data, whether or not you have identified yourself properly or not.  A privately controlled social media site can remove all corporate spying, and could remove all but the most “illegal” government intrusions as well.  It has long been acknowledged that any discussions that include acts that are construed as being illegal in nature should never occur online, especially events or discussion about conducting civil disobedience, which could end up drawing court ordered tapping in the past or more sophisticated online monitoring now.

Should the activist community be looking at first amendment rights in regards to how the federal government has been acting?  The nuclear issue, whether it is from power or weapons was classified as a national security issue from the start, and thus any public involvement immediately draws us into this debate whether we like it or not.  Mainstream political communities refuse to take the argument outside of the more dramatic aspects of the issue.  However, presentations here (see tabs) shows that the issue has engulfed all online controversies including this issue.  The issue goes even, as online organizers have been fighting the corporate agenda to roll back online activism of all kinds

Its assumed by many that they are supposed innocent of any suspicion for their activism on this issue in public.

There are many pro’s and con’s for online organizing.  Historically, most organizers refrained from using the internet for anything more than research and email networks to share important news or alerts.  More important strategy work would only be done face to face.

But this started to change in the early years of the 21st century with the advent of the Blog and all of its various flavors.  Even so, environmental activists continued to shy away from the blogosphere, and in many cases almost completely missed out on the 2006 and 2008 election cycles and what would be seen as the new mass forums where political organizing would result in millions of young people getting involved in the election of President Obama.

Then organizers would finally wake up to the dramatic “Bandwagon Impacts” of Facebook, Myspace and many of the other Web 2.0 tools that had truly changed many other communities, especially the corporate PR world.  It wasn’t until after the Fukushima disaster that most anti-nuclear activists finally woke up to this world, and especially Facebook.  Sadly,  the luddite nature of most people involved was so poorly messed up that nothing anybody said, especially this author would be listened too, let alone be discussed since most people weren’t willing to do more than use Facebook as dumping ground for news in a way that as warned, would sooner than later burn people out.  For example, in the weeks and months following the disaster, how many people could possibly spend 4 hours or more a day attempting to go through the barrage of content that hundreds of people would post daily.  If there was ever a time when the need for a trustable set of news filters could have helped was during those early months.  Instead,  slowly, people got tired of scanning through all manner or stories, be they good or bad.  At one point some of the larger Facebook groups had thousands of members, that would slowly burnout.

How could have this been done differently?

Well, as someone that had spent nearly 5 years and thousands of hours on some of the bigger blogs prior to the advent of the Facebook mania, there were many excellent alternatives.  It’s just that nobody was willing to come together and get a working group to actually do something.  Just as Brian Tokar’s comments show, (see tab) I’ve more or less walked away from Facebook because of what he’s saying.  But more to the point, believe that unless something is done its just a matter of time before the anti-nuclear movement really tanks very badly. Whether or not it likes it or not, we have a highly organized and financed industry that has been through two previous major nuclear incidents and is actively managing Fukushima Fallout, biding their time for when they can start to undermine the current mood of those still fighting the good fight.  Yes, Facebook is a morale booster, but its failings are too many and too urgent not to address.

Don’t take my word for it.  Do something and do it soon!

The proposal, there was a recent attempt to start a secured online community by an activist that is part of the C.A.N. Facebook page!  Wonderful.  However, the design (ASANA) has many serious flaws, with the worst of them being that people moving to that format would still be posting their content in a corporate owned blog, that is actually highly structured, as a way to manage work groups.  Sorry, but not a good format for all the different resources that we could use to help do things like filter the news, strategize or organize public outreach for events, alerts and more.

The tools are now available that were not there just three years ago to build our own closed system that is not only similar to Facebook, but would allow us to create a real no nukes only city of people from around the world, that could do the above things.  And it could be added directly onto the CAN Blog without a lot of work.   And do so, so there are both public, and private places for geographically oriented groups or by subject can come together to share resources, news and strategy sessions that could be both reasonably secure (word of mouth only).

The benefits would be huge!  But unless people actually make up their minds that its about time to make a change and take the steps to do so, then nothing will happen, and in another year, the number of people active will have dropped dramatically just like it has over the last year.  We have to make the online resources a positive experience.  This can be done.  Don’t expect everything, but oh, my what a difference we could make!

Brian Tokar

We need to talk about Facebook: For several years we have provided servers and communication infrastructure for the left. We have done our best to keep the servers safe and have resisted requests for user data by the authorities, using various means. In short: we try to offer a liberating form of communication within the capitalist internet. We have always seen the internet as a resource for our struggles and at the same time recognised it as contested political terrain, and we have acted accordingly. We thought that most on the left saw it the same way. But since more and more people on the left have been “using” Facebook (or Facebook has been using them), we are not so sure any more. Instead, our political work has been seen as lacking and exhausting. Encrypted communication with autonomous servers is not perceived as liberating but rather as annoying.

Disneyland: We just hadn’t realised that, after all the stress out on the streets and all those lengthy group discussions, many activists seem to have this desire to prattle at length on Facebook about everything and with everyone. We hadn’t realised that, even for the left, Facebook is the sweetest of all temptations. That the left along with everyone else enjoys following the subtle flow of exploitation where it doesn’t seem to hurt and, for once, not having to resist. Many people suffer from a bad conscience. While this may lead them to anticipate the fatal consequences of Facebook, it does not seem to translate into action. Is it really ignorance?

Just to give a short outline of the problem. By using Facebook, activists do not just make their own communication, their opinion, their ‘likes’, etc. transparent and available for processing. Instead – and we consider this far more important – they expose structures and individuals who themselves have little or nothing to do with Facebook. Facebook’s capability to search the net for relationships, similarities etc. is difficult to comprehend for lay people. The chatter on Facebook reproduces political structures for the authorities and for companies. These can be searched, sorted and aggregated not just in order to obtain precise statements regarding social relations, key people, etc., but also in order to make predictions, from which regularities can be deduced. Next to mobile phones, Facebook is the most subtle, cheapest and best surveillance technology available.

Facebook users as unwitting informants?: We have always thought that the left wants something else: to continue our struggles on the internet and to use the internet for our political struggles. This is what it’s about for us – even today. That is why we see Facebook users as a real danger for our struggles. In particular, activists who publish important information on Facebook (often without knowing what they are doing), which is increasingly used by law enforcement agencies. We could almost go as far as accusing those activists of collaborating. But we’re not quite there yet. We still have hope that people will realise that Facebook is a political enemy and that those who use Facebook make it more and more powerful. Activist Facebook users feed the machine and thereby reveal our structures – without any need, without any court orders, without any pressure.

Our Point of View: We are aware that we’re talking from ‘above’. For us, having worked for years – and sometimes have earned a living – with the net and with computers, system administration, programming, cryptography and lots more, Facebook comes as something like a natural enemy. And since we also consider ourselves to be part of the left, this adds to the analysis of the political economy of Facebook, where ‘users’ are turned into a product, that is sold, and become consumers at the same time. The jargon for this is ‘demand generation’. We realise that not everyone deals as enthusiastically with the internet as we do. But for activists to allow this Trojan horse called Facebook to be part of their everyday lives is a sign of ignorance on a critical level.

We urge everyone: close your Facebook accounts! You are putting others in danger! Act against this data monster! Also: Leave Yahoo! mail and co. Down with Google! Against data retention! For net neutrality! Freedom for Bradley Manning! Long live decentralisation!

Fight capitalism! Also – and especially – on the internet! Against exploitation and oppression! Also – and especially – on the internet! Get on your comrades’ nerves. Point out to them that by feeding Facebook they have chosen the wrong side!

FB Dangers

How Facebook May Secretly Foil Your Activist Plans

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 [blatant self-promotion alert!] will be even more crucial in achieving positive social change.

Design Options

This isn’t just for nerds.  Thirty  years ago, the grassroots anti-nuclear movement in California collapsed for a number of reasons. The most important was that only the most dedicated, or spies etc. had the resources to routinely travel hundreds of miles to strategy meetings far away.  The larger urban networks of activists would tend to overwhelm smaller communities or individual activists when it came to strategy.  With many people either disempowered its only a matter of time before people start to back away.  Or worse, don’t understand the complex nature of what has happened and can easily stomp all over others without understanding what they’ve done.  In the old days, everyone wanting to get involved had to take non-violence training, which included more than just a hour of preparation before getting arrested.  It was quite awhile before we started to educate new people about what a “Basis of Unity” statement was about, or why people would join affinity groups as well as working groups – what it meant to be an activist, rather than the member of an NGO.   Imagine if we’d had an internet 35 years ago when thousands of people were active and willing to dedicate hours a day, rather than minutes a day!

What hats do you wear and how do we share the duties of keeping a grassroots movement vibrant and interesting so that people want to join rather than fade away? Taking a break gracefully vs. running from the urgent need to shut them down needs as many folks as possible. Not everybody can spend hours a day, but even the smallest helping hand at the right moment could be just what’s needed at that critical moment!  Ask any activist about those magic moments when the right person was in the right place at the right time!

We know what the answers are. We just need people to break out of their isolated routines and agendas, which only seems to happen when a crisis rips down the walls and offers new opportunities to build community.  Well, of course, we can’t expect to do this on a global scale, or can we?  Facebook shows us just how important the larger community can be, but it also shows us that FB doesn’t give a damn about really setting up a designed community that really can do more than overload people with a single stream of noise.   Yes, no matter what design exists out there today, at some point a new one will come along and change everything, but that’s not today.  If not now? When? If no you? Who?

What happens if a new design fails?  Will people give up completely or have to go back to Facebook?

Well, for one thing,  I’m not suggesting that FB be abandoned completely, but still used as a recruiting/events/news sharing resource, where a handful people who are given the responsibility share the best content, not to mention keep an eye on how to draw the right folks away and why! The design suggested below can fit directly onto the current CAN blog and could be up with design options started to be worked on in a matter of minutes.  Not days, hours or weeks.  Building a large community will take time, but even a handful of people could evaluate current models, or a new one in a few days.  Either staying onto for a 2nd phase to see if most of the dedicated folks will quickly see the benefit and start to shift their work to the new site.

So here’s the scoop.

There are lessons to learn.  Some of the biggest online communities have failed while others continue.  For example, the one incredibly valuable blog that did failed (it was co-opted) is called  Newsvine.  It once had over 50,000 members and thousands of daily users.  It was a city of people.  Attempting to find your way around in such a huge online community was incredibly tricky, but rewarding.  It was a huge lesson for those willing to learn the ins and outs of how to use that service.  Sadly, the programmers that designed Newsvine, were bought out (they made a lot of money) by MS-NBC and quickly turned it into a joke. But for those of us who saw it during its early days, it was a place to meet not just your friends but those who would challenge your ideas and ability to present your case for any issue under the sun. If you had your facts and talking points right, you could change people’s minds.  Something we all need to do as its unlikely that more than 10-20% of people that support nuclear energy at most are hardened in their position.  As more people understand that the art of blogging isn’t just about a one on one debate at the bottom of a NY Times article,  being able to develop resources like talking points can have a dramatic impact if a team shows up on a new site almost anywhere in the world and stops the lies we almost invariably see being promoted.

More sophisticated users, understood that a number of wiki’s/blogs/bookmarking sites needed to be strung together to help coordinate the various online resources that could help to deal with a complex issue like a presidential election, or for that matter the nuclear issue.  Let me get to the heart of the matter.  Nuclear power is a very complicated issue to deal with.  Most people have difficulties drilling down into such a complicated issue like this without getting lost or worse, being divided and conquered – burned out or worse buy into the lies.  A lot of NGO’s are not exactly happy about movements except when it comes to a crunch.  Please write a letter, or sign this petition etc.  Sadly, most of our best groups are on limited budgets, and can’t begin to manage even a fraction of the complex issues that are routinely bursting out.  How many times have you been wondering what the best article is out there to read to catch up with the full story, vs.  the nuances of what happened in the DC circuit court decision, or what people are thinking in Nevada, Taipai, or Toronto?

How to deal with all the geographical battle grounds vs the myriad of news coming out from around the world?

We need a Librarian to build a Menu that allows a person to quickly drill down into what’s important to them at that moment, as well as see what’s hot or what’s not.  As mentioned for example.  Who wants to wade through the 30-50 news stories a day that can be coming out of Fukushima when much of what they are seeing is a rehash or spin from somebody else?  In the old days, we called editors at newspapers “Gatekeepers”.  What if we can now see all the content as well as help support a balanced mechanism on how to filter (be our own gatekeeper) all that content? Not to mention draw some of our best folks out into a secure community where they won’t get hit with a zillion stupid questions…

Any activist with a grain of salt has seen what a paralegal does in terms of creating a time line based summary for a complex issue.  If we can’t even build such summaries, timelines or resources for our own community, then how do we expect our legal folks and experts  to stay functional, let alone willing to find the time to participating?  The model exists.  Somebody just has to do it and do it in a way that people understand why its being done that way.  You want to annotate, create a bibliography or document a serious piece for a movement spokesperson?  Well, we need everyone to think in terms of how important a well written piece can be in terms of influencing the public or politicians, NRC or public service commission boards…

Not to mention creating talking points that rank and file activists can quickly review and spread around when there’s a hot online fight at the Times or other major media outlet.

So how do we organize all of these various areas?

We need a working group of people to talk about how to do this.

So what resources exist to do this?

Today, it can be done for free.  Any WordPress (except the commercial free version) blog can have plugins (software that adds additional features) added to it that can then be setup to operate in a function similar to Facebook.  We can use these plugins to create any number of groups that do things like separate Fukushima News to news on Indian Point or other campaign or sub issue.  Working groups can have their own public or private areas where complex discussions can go on, all linked  to automated mailing systems (digests included).  Imagine a city directory where you can find the issue/story/community of your choice all of it organized and quickly located.  This is not something you can do with FB, which is driven only by popularity  driven activity.  The models exist.  There just has to be a critical mass of people to get it off the ground and demonstrate that such system can actually be beneficial. the problem of course is that there few people have the time , initiative or willingness to lead such an endeavor.  Previous attempts have not faired well.  What will it take to get it to work?  Well, for one thing, if we don’t try then it won’t happen.

Getting people to do this sooner than later means at least a 5-10 people willing to take action.  Interested?

Last but not least.  This took a couple of hours to write and is just a first draft.  Do you have suggestion on how this presentation could be more to the point?  How do we convince others on why its so crucial to build a global network that doesn’t trap activists into corporate databases?

Creating a place where simple news doesn’t get mixed up with deeper discussions can be done.  A model exists that can be demonstrated to those who really want to take the time to sort out how such  to build a structure that would go substantially farther than FB does.  No, that model can’t compete with FB on a few levels, simple because the free designer community that has been developing this new network now for the last 4 years or so, doesn’t have the money FB does.  However, Its design is open source, and capable of evolving as new resources get developed.

What is it?  The plugin is called Buddypress and can be added to any wordpress blog.

How secure is it?  If the resources are available, a secured server as suggested by Brian Tokar could certainly help to make the site incredibly secure.  However, the intention of the earliest development such levels should be discussed further, along with the need for segments of the system to be completely public as well.  The BP system has the capacity to have public, private and completely hidden groups and groups within groups.

Mail notices?  Yes,  BP has mail options that allow users to set mail for any and all groups they are part of from immediate, daily or weekly digest modes.

FB comments vs. better designs:

FB lets you like or create a single level comment below the last person.

BP has a variety of additional designs that allow complex interaction of comments.  But of course, real discussions or projects can be completely private between individuals or as public as necessary.  Yes, it has an option for group chats as well.

BP has document libraries where share editing can take place.  It also has the same friends links and messaging system between people.  BP can have any number of administrators for groups.

BP isn’t quite as intuitive in terms of posting news or video’s.  You have to click on an icon the way people used to have to do 3 years ago to select between a video,  photo or news story. See below.  And you’d never want somebody to use one of those “Add This” options that allow remote posting of content onto public sites which is pretty much a cheap version of Spam.  Going to the site to post an article may take a few seconds longer… But who knows that option may also eventually be available, but not at the present.


Again, its not perfect. And it is evolving.  The benefits?  A Basis of Unity agreement for what gets posted and where.  The ability to bring together people by regions as well as by issue all organized from a menu on the blog.  It also has the same notices when a person logs in at the top of the blog or on their activities page (personal page).

Here’s the catch.  If there is only a few users.  It will dry up and blow away.  If there hundreds of active or semi-active users on a regular basis it just might work.  But it means that people would have to give it time, as well as convince people sitting on the fence to join in and dedicate that precious few minutes of their time in a more organized way.  The learning curve?  Hey, if you made it on Facebook, BP will be easy.  Until it becomes a city.  Its actually been used by CUNY!

In addition, if folks really got things together there are also additional online resources that could be used for special projects, like the Asana work/projects site.  However, once again, if you don’t run the software package that sits on an Internet Service Provider, rather than somebody wanting to run a cheap business model then how will you know whether or not what you post will still be there in a year or five years?  Does your site integrate with the move the mobile phone community or the eventual ability to hold on the fly video meetings?  As Brian suggest, its about time that people realize that free services, from yahoo, google, facebook, or others allow companies to hold onto you content if not sell it without your knowledge.  Getting started on fixing this means convincing people to make a few modest changes, not to mention see what the potential is for a much more organized community.  The benefits of FB in terms of networking with like minded people is just the beginning.  Bad habits are hard to break and now is a great time to break the FB habit.


There are a lot of alternatives to Facebook (see next tab for pro’s and cons).  Probably the most popular of these is Google Doc’s which is where the most innovative people have gone.  Other places like WiserEarth, NING, or Newsvine come to mind as online communities.  Of these, WiserEarth would appear to be the best choice since it was setup by environmentally conscious activists as well as having an international following.  The design is okay, however its a bit difficult to figure out how to use, but not overtly so when it comes to what the necessary steps are.  Setup your personal account, view tutorials and then find people and groups you want to participate in.

Meanwhile, Google’s version for building a Social Network has gotten a lot of attention because of its more robust online resources like its built in video chat option, not to mention the capacity to Google’s fleet of other resources and ability to quickly add new features when they come along.

Probably as anyone who has used Facebook or any of these other sites come to realize is that the world of online Social Networks as they exist right now is not just new, but has barely gotten off the ground in terms of what these places can do and what they can’t.

However, there is a newcomer to the crowd called BuddyPress (BP) that will be the primary focus of this section. Why?  BuddyPress is a free add on that can be quickly installed on any WordPress blog.  WordPress is the largest blogging system in the world.  For people unfamiliar with WordPress watch this video. 

Why would your group want to setup a BP Social Network?  First off, its not that difficult to do.  Second off, its yours to configure, not to mention no advertizements, the conversations, documents won’t get sold or spied upon full time.  Read the Brian Tokar tab for more on this.  And of course there the real reason here is that it can turn your blog from just a place to post articles or news into a place where people want to spend time and work with each other, which of course is what Facebook does, but with a seriously lame ability to have more complex conversations.

However, the most important reason to use BP is that it can be designed to match the needs of the community, with you and your community in control of the design.  You can have as many groups as needed and they can all be organized into the wordpress blog menu so that people can quickly navigate to a news group or their own working group.  It includes built in mail resources for instant mail notification of new material or in digest formats (daily or weekly).   In addition, BP is alive and growing as it has a body of programmers that are working to make it better as well as adding new features.  Not to mention its used by CUNY, the largest city college system in the US.  There are over 1.5 million WordPress sites of the 70 million sites out there that have BP on them.



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