tom moody

more on radical facebook groups

Am still mulling over Dorothy Howard's call on Rhizome for radicals to embrace Facebook and start "groups" (where users create secret or non-secret circles of "friends" within the larger Facebook ecosystem). When commenters (including yrs truly) criticized this idea, Howard responded with a veiled ad hominem argument that we were "privileged" and therefore, presumably, compromised to speak. Here is a slightly condensed version of this colloquy:

pastasauce: ...rather than roll up your sleeves and learn HTML and make your own thing, you've instead chosen to "work within the system" and create another dumb Facebook group, add all your friends to it, and wait for the likes to roll in.

tm: Pastasauce's notion of sleeve-rolling and HTML-learning (if it rises to the level of a notion above hardcore trolling) is scary for many people ("what, just put up a site and wait for people to find me?") but that direction offers a hope of independence, as opposed to Howard's "learn to embrace the system" accommodation.

howard*: I personally don't think independence should be constituted by who can code. That would be derived from the systematic opportunities given to some privileged members of society to acquire such knowledge required to participate in resistance.

tm: I've been "indie" on the web for about 15 years but I don't consider myself a "coder." It's possible to host content on the web outside of Facebook without any specialized knowledge. There are many sites looking to host content, and bots crawling all of them for searchable information.

Howard's response employs a rhetorical strategy that has been called "privilege shaming." It's difficult to combat, because it creates an absurd race to the bottom to establish that both speakers have the same "street" bona fides. Let's look closely at the phrasing. Pastasauce didn't mention "coding," he (let's assume it's a he) suggested "learning HTML" as a way to put up web content without joining Facebook. That isn't actually necessary -- plenty of sites will host you without any HTML knowledge. And in any case the HTML knowledge to create a web page consists of handful of "tags" that can be mastered in an afternoon. Nevertheless, Howard translates "one who is learning HTML" to "one who can code," a substantial leap. From there, Howard decries the coder as having a "systematic opportunity" that non-coders lack. If we were racing to the bottom, we would point out that anyone who could write the sentence "J├╝rgen Habermas identifies the public sphere as a historical condition emerging in the late 18th century, spurred by the merger of state and private life under capitalism concurrent with the abolishment of feudal states" probably has had educational "systemic opportunities" that the rank and file Facebook user does not have. (Howard would then have to establish that she is an autodidact who came from nothing, and yet was not "privileged" by her own pursuit of knowledge.) Ugh.
But instead let's just point out that the Facebook owners "can code" and that Howard suggests we ignore this ultimate trump card control over all discourse on Facebook. If an offending word or image suddenly disappears from Howard's Facebook group discussion she can't change it back -- she must petition her feudal overlords for redress. In order to be "street" she must treat the owners of the roads as benign and invisible. That's just not very radical.

*Update, Dec 2015: Sometime after the discussion Howard's screenname was changed to Vaughn88, so this comment is no longer attributed to "Dorothy Howard."

- tom moody

August 6th, 2015 at 7:17 am

Posted in computers-R-stupid