We're continuing to discuss Dorothy Howard's Rhizome article advocating Facebook groups. She starts by saying:
These days, Facebook is so widely used that opting out constitutes an act of defiance of the norm.
She quotes some statistics to support this and concludes the best place to be is on the inside, agitating for change:
[A] 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 64% of adults use Facebook, while 30% of Americans use it as their primary news source. Its scale and omnipresence make Facebook Groups an ideal environment for vernacular culture as well as consciousness-raising and political organizing. Embracing Facebook and its corporate aesthetic doesn't have to be read as giving in, or as an accelerationist acceptance or even pursual of corporatization. Rather, in spite of seemingly insurmountable barriers like corporate centralization, solidarity and resistance can be, and are perhaps most likely to be, forged from within the very structures that seem most totalitarian.
Rhizome's Artistic Director, Michael Connor, thinks Facebook rises to the level of a "public utility":
[An] apt analogy for Facebook would be a public utility. Public utilities can be privately owned or publicly owned, they are not necessarily characterized by "mutual ownership" - only by public oversight. And such oversight is only likely to emerge through the organization of users themselves, very possibly with the platform itself as an organizing tool.
I questioned the Pew Numbers:
Howard's main justification for using Facebook is based on demographics ("64% of adults use Facebook, while 30% of Americans use it as their primary news source"). I would like to know more about these Pew numbers. Facebook is notorious for inflating its user data. If the 64% percent is based on polling, what is the universe -- 64% of US adults? 64% of US adults with internet access? What constitutes access? A monthly phone plan? etc.
And the public utility analogy:
Another problem with the public utility analogy is that those entities are government-granted monopolies and are subject to public oversight. If you have a problem with the power company you have a government board that hears your complaints. Pressure comes from without, not within. Whereas Facebook is this weird voluntary addictive thing that takes over people's lives and most of them don't know how they got there (to continue the smoking analogy). We try to offer those people alternatives, we don't encourage them to organize as they continue to buy tobacco.
Howard posted a link to the 2013 Pew study. I responded:
I've looked at Dorothy Howard's Pew polling numbers. There are more recent surveys than the 2013 one, although the results are similar.
On social media use generally: http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/01/SurveyQuestions.pdf
On where internet users get news: http://www.journalism.org/files/2015/07/Twitter-and-News-Survey-Topline-FINAL1.pdf
The survey universe is pretty small. 2000 US adults were interviewed; half of those were via cell phone. 75% of those adults self-identify as internet users. The percentage of US adults (adjusted for internet use) who use FB is 71%, which seems high, but of those only 45% visit several times a day. A significant percentage uses sites other than, or in addition to, FB: Twitter (23%); Instagram (26%); Pinterest (28%); LinkedIn (28%), with smaller numbers visiting those sites several times a day.
As for where users get their news, 40% of Twitter users say Twitter is "an important way I get my news" and the same percentage was found for FB users.
This may be a compelling argument to be connected to some form of social media but I don't see why it has to be Facebook, especially given all the negatives ZI is reminding us of [link added -- tm]. Howard's lead statement, "Facebook is so widely used that opting out constitutes an act of defiance of the norm," is essentially an advertisement for Facebook and is thinly supported statistically. Again, I realize we have some heavy Facebook users on the Rhizome staff but I don't think it's fair to couch this as a popular mandate or say that Facebook rises to the level of a "public utility," the way the telephone system was 40 years ago. There are too many other options: you should be emphasizing those.