On Anti-Social Networking

First a hypothesis:

Social networking platforms conduce a certain amount of civility from their users. I'm guessing the public nature of it makes no one want to look mean. But also, I would believe, people get sucked in to the reputation, popularity and in some cases increased usability that a large social graph implies (by the later i mean some web apps work better the more people are using them). So we shy away from being impolite and spamming our friends with fuck you or annoying applications. This politeness, at least for some of us, seeps into our approach to social networks as a whole. This is all good and dandy when we are only using facebook or myspace to keep in touch with people or for entertainment but it hinders some of the best potential that social networking has: to organize peer 2 peer movements and to use its inherent reputation systems to hold individuals or entities accountable. Because social movements are always in someway linked to social antagonisms it helps to organize expressing those antagonisms. Because maleficent individuals and entities (our corporate masters!) respond to negative attention and change policy, accountability can be served by antagonism.

enter enemybook...

... a few days ago I saw that a friend of mine had added the enemybook application on facebook, a fb whore myself I got curious and added it myself. The app was developed by MIT Grad student Keven Matulef, he writes on enemybook.info:

Enemybook remedies the one-sided perspective of Facebook, by allowing you to manage enemies as well as friends. With Enemybook you can add people as Facebook enemies, specify why they are your enemies, notify your enemies, see who lists you as an enemy, and even become friends with the enemies of your enemies.[you can also flip-off your enemies, the anti-social networking equivalent of poking]

I immediately added the friend mentioned above and margaret thatcher as enemies, then quickly forgot about the app for a few days. But today I got to thinking that enemy book might work as a viral platform for public and corporate accountability campaigns.

So to experiment and thinking of a particular labor rights campaign against coca-cola, I returned to enemybook, and found, deep on its message board, that I could add "fan of" pages, which for many corporations serve as marketing on fb, to to my list of enemies. It takes a little side-step though:

1. copy the unique user id of a page. that is number found in the url such as http://www.facebook.com/pages/Coca-Cola-R/8516303118?ref=s

2. Paste it into the box on the "Enemy Others" part of the add enemies page.

Then your given the option to state why they are your enemy. So I pasted in the first paragraph from the about page of the killercoke.org campaign as well as its url. And presto coca-cola was my enemy.

Now this anti-social networking isn't going to be the killer app of online organizing but its a fun viral way to spread word of a campaign or as a fun kind of petition. As users, non-profit and social change pages, as well as their use of apps like causes and ultimatums, develop those will definitely be the best places to spread information and get people to collaborate on activism. But I imagine apps like enemybooks can also be hijacked by activists as parts of their toolbox.

I must say, that the developer's blog, enemyblog, is skeptical of such a use:

Hot on the heals of Enemybook's appearance in Timeout London, I've been asked by a fairly well-known NGO to make a more serious version of the program. The goal of this NGO is to prevent genocide, and their hope is that a more serious Enemybook will act as a sort of war criminal "watch list." The idea is to help educate the public about some of the alleged perpetrators of atrocities being committed internationally (specifically in Darfur), and get people to put pressure on the UN to stop these atrocities and bring the appropriate people to justice.

Admittedly, I have my doubts about the efficacy of a Facebook app in furthering this (or any) humanitarian cause. But if there's one app that can stop genocide and bring world peace, Enemybook is it. Time permitting, I'm going to see what I can do for this organization. More details to follow in the coming weeks.

In fact, Kevin treats the app as a parody of facebook and its how it solicits users to be polite and except almost all friend requests, a valuable statement in itself. from the boston globe:

He describes the program as "an antisocial utility that disconnects you to the so-called friends around you."

Matulef, 28, got the idea from undergraduates at the dorm where he tutors, after hearing one student talk about how someone was a "Facebook friend," but not a "real friend."

But because of the fun virality reasons stated above, I disagree that enemybook couldn't be useful to activist. But I also disagree with the NGO that a more serious version is needed (I am reminded of Ethan Zuckerman's recent Cute Cat Theory of Internet Activism: if a platform is not used to spread pictures of cute cats, meaning if it is not used for p2p entertainment, it is not working, if the platform is not used for activism, it is not good). Rather what is needed is better functionality.


1.: creating an automatic way to add pages as enemies (no unique id cut and paste)
2.: easy to link to other pages, causes and activist resources on fb or the net.
3.: A better list of public figure enemies, keeping it thorough, searchable and with catagories such as corporations.

And the best for last:

4.: Add the ability to coordinate mass flip-offs. Such a coordinated effort would flood the pages inbox, these messages would take time to remove, and affect the targets confidence and ability to use facebook. It would effect their marketing departments bottom line and might qualify as electronic civil disobedience. As a added bonus, it might discourage corporate presence on fb.


blf on worldchanging

a few days after i posted on the billboard liberation front, regine, of we-make-money-not-art wrote a great piece which discusses blf's history and practices.

i found this bit of advise on billboard improvement worth reposting here (but you really should read the article):

- Minimize property damage and respect the sign men. BLF make modification which are easy to remove and always leave some beer or liquor for the men who have to come and clean their "improvements."

(found via worldchanging)


Billboard Liberation Front

I had a very similar idea for this at&t campaign a few months ago. I glad the billboard liberation front had a better one and the resources to execute.

(via the anti-advertising agency)


"reaganomics in greenface"

great post via earth2tech

“Green-collar jobs” has entered the zeitgeist with the help of political promises and media infatuation. Most recently the EPA has put $2.5 million into the Brownfields environmental job training program, one of the government’s oldest efforts to train a greener workforce.

The most outspoken, and well-spoken, advocate for green-collar jobs has been environmental justice crusader Van Jones. Co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Jones was the subject of a recent Q&A with the Sun Magazine in which he sounds off on “eco-elites,” green Reaganomics, and explains why cleantech entrepreneurs are leaving the working class behind.

Jones is concerned that the cleantech movement is growing away from the working class. “Nobody is showing people of modest means how they will benefit from green energy,” he said. “Green is the new gold for rich eco-entrepreneurs, but it can be just one more burden for low-income people if they get stuck paying higher rates.”

Coal, oil and gas companies have long threatened higher power rates to stall emissions regulations. But Jones points out that cheap, dirty power comes at a high environmental and medical price. And all too often it is low-income communities who bear the brunt of a fossil fuel economy’s pollution. Asthma rates in Oakland are among the highest in the state. Jones doesn’t want to see the same environmental injustices perpetuated in the emerging clean economy.

It would be easy to say that once we have renewable this and organic that, everybody will benefit, but that’s not a progressive policy; it’s just trickle-down Reaganomics in “greenface.” Of course there will be jobs created, but will kids over in west Oakland be able to get those jobs? Will we be satisfied with a sustainable economy that, at the end of the day, is eco-apartheid?

Jones has likened the movement he envisions to Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society. He foresees a green economy that will not only make Silicon Valley executives rich but employ a green proletariat that undertakes the process of retrofitting a great society into a green society.

[Y]ou don’t hear a full-throated call for the sort of World War II–level mobilization that it’s going to take to avert ecological catastrophe. If you look at the scientific data on global warming, you can see that we can’t avoid a wholesale disaster unless we put this country back to work — putting up solar panels, weatherizing buildings, and constructing wind farms on a massive scale.

(emphasis is my own)


networks will network: censorship, net culture, cuba

i was intriguied by an article in the nytimes entitled cyber-rebels in cuba defy state limits. it seems cubans have begun to thwart state cyber censorship which includes hefty limits to internet access, not by creating fancy software go abouts like activists in china, but rather through innovative, often offline, connections.

i know the nytimes' archive isn't always accesible so i will quote the article at length. the artilce begins:

A growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups has been mounting some challenges to the Cuban government in recent months, spreading news that the official state media try to suppress.

and elaborates on particular events:

Last month, students at a prestigious computer science university videotaped an ugly confrontation they had with Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the National Assembly.

Mr. Alarcón seemed flummoxed when students grilled him on why they could not travel abroad, stay at hotels, earn better wages or use search engines like Google. The video spread like wildfire through Havana, passed from person to person, and seriously damaged Mr. Alarcón’s reputation in some circles.

something similar happened in late January when officials tried to impose a tax on the tips and wages of employees of foreign companies. workers erupted in jeers and shouts when told about the new tax, a moment caught on a cellphone camera and passed along by memory sticks.

“it passes from flash drive to flash drive,” said ariel, 33, a computer programmer,

i am reminded of the streisand effect where when an attempt to censor information on the internet backfires and causes the proliferation of that information. so if the recording industry tries to take down a song that song is then spread and posted in considerably more places. i read somewhere that in effect the internet treats censorship like a bug and attempts to route around it.

however the cuban example illustrates that such go arounds are not implicit to the internet but part of network culture in itself. censorship doesn't just galvanize people to repost or mirror items around the net but to create new links and paths of exchange both online and offline, by any means possible. state controls are becoming obsolete as they galvanize new networked, more resiliant, social formations. in cuba, this becomes manifest in the underground movement of passing flash drives around by hand. however china seems to be a bit more experienced (and has greater infrastructure), so instead of just outright censoring or limiting access it creates official paths that allow a vast amount of information to flow and has sophisticated filters on that information. it discurages looking for censored information by making it a little harder (and not worth the average user's time) to access. cuba simply limits access, yet information will still find its way even without broadband. i think the important lesson is that network culture is not simply derrivative of the internet but is its own social formation with its own intertia that could change the world even if all our computers were turned off.

for more information on how the chinese firewall works and how people get around it you should check out this wonderful and comprehensive article from the atlantic.

image via howl @ the moon


facebook and p2p activism

i just added the ultimatums app into my facebook profile and i do believe it is the best application so far for activism on the social network.

its the fb extension of the thepoint.com and works like this: an individual creates a campaign/action stating we will do X if Y amount of people will do the same. so when a particular critical mass (tipping point) of people sign on a notice goes out reminding people of their commitment.

possibilities include:

End Facebook's allowance of Marketing through Beacon. If 1,000 people join we will boycott the facebook.


Force facebook to make it easier to leave facebook. if 20 people sign on, we will stage a sit-in at fb headquarters.


Raise $$'s to give facebook to starving children. If 500,000 thousand people join, we will each give one dollar to the Facebook for starving children fund.

Of course the app doesn't have to be used for facebook issues but anything you like (and there are really silly ones but also good ones like a call to boycott a hotel if it doesn't meet the unions demands).

I really think this is a step above the causes app which is only good for peer to peer fundraising and notices (awareness raising). This app actually creates objectives and allows for planning actions and so nicely encompasses several facets of peer to peer democracy, including p2p organizing, p2p agitation, and fundraising. And its scalable. It could be used to find out if a critical mass is there for a campus protest (20 people?) or if its there for boycotting a large corporation (100,000 people?). And then act upon it. In the boycott example it is also an easy way to prove how many people are involved. What I'm most excited about is seeing how people might use it to organize novel actions. The best one I've seen there (and it was only released yesterday) is Studend Discount for BART which works like this:

Goal: BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) must offer a student discount rate for cross-bay travel
Or Else: We will buy tickets using only nickels to shut down downtown berkeley station if 1,000 people join

however, by and large, activism on fb is still probally best practiced through user to user communication and through groups. hopefully some more applications will come out that facilitate organizing though