With friends like these … Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian
This is a rather scathing and quite scary attack on Facebook. The argument that it is harmless and merely helps people connect is a myth says the author, Tom Hodgkinson. The real motivation of those who set it up (apparently a small group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists) is to promote the consume, be silent and die, ethos of neo-liberalism. Harsh? Maybe, but Hodgkinson is convincing.
Here’s a taste:
Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.
And another, that sets out the neo-con and anti-worker philosophy behind the hugely successful site. Facebook has over 60 million members and counting.
The internet is immensely appealing to neocons such as Thiel because it promises a certain sort of freedom in human relations and in business, freedom from pesky national laws, national boundaries and suchlike. The internet opens up a world of free trade and laissez-faire expansion. Thiel also seems to approve of offshore tax havens, and claims that 40% of the world’s wealth resides in places such as Vanuatu, the Cayman Islands, Monaco and Barbados. I think it’s fair to say that Thiel, like Rupert Murdoch, is against tax. He also likes the globalisation of digital culture because it makes the banking overlords hard to attack: “You can’t have a workers’ revolution to take over a bank if the bank is in Vanuatu,” he says.
but what then of the arguments that social networking increases democracy and opens up a new virtual, digital public sphere? My experience of other social networking sites, particularly American-based ones are a happy home to gun-nuts, pro-war social conservatives and wierdos.
Cruise into somewhere like Fubar (only open to members) to see what I mean. Fubar operates like an online pub, which is interesting as one of Hodgkinson’s arguments is why not just go a real pub if you want to meet people and chat. In the Fubar you can meet all kinds of rednecks who proudly support the troops in Iraq. I joined for a short time to check it out; I couldn’t find any anti-war ideas displayed. There’s lots up pumped up soldierly-looking guys and even some pornstars pimping their wares with links from their profiles to commercial sites where you can buy their DVDs etc.
Sure, there are some ordinary folk among the 1.5 million Fubar users, but it’s really a place for show-offs and voyeurs. Facebook claims to be different for sure, but how different is it really? I’m not sure, but there are plenty of wannabe pornstars there and on MySpace.
You don’t have to look for them, or interact, but it’s interesting how the adult industry colonises such places rather quickly.
Hodgkinson’s article is an interesting one. The tendency for people to be “sheep-like” and “copy one another without much reflection” is especially strong when they’re enjoying humour (ie laughing at a LOLCAZ jpg) or being made to feel good about themselves (ie having 600 online ‘friends’). And for people caught up in that, there’s a form of addiction going on they’re not even aware of. Because Facebook head honcho Thiel has evidently cottoned on to that fact, a picture of Facebook as a kind of drug tout starts to emerge. Which, along with the questionable use of private information gathered from users, opens an ethical can of worms.
Where I’d disagree with Hodgkinson is in the concept of a social networking site being undesirable; a borderless virtual world is a good thing – just without the hidden agendas.
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