A few months back, the media was full of claims of the key role that Facebook (and Twitter) played in the revolution in Egypt. Never mind that the role has been overstated, especially given that the revolution was able to carry on when the Egyptian Government pulled the plugs on the country’s links to the internet.
This weekend, however, there seems to have been a wholesale purge of anti-cuts groups on Facebook, with 50 having disappeared without warning. The list includes groups linked to UK Uncut, including BigSociety Leeds, but also the Westminster Trades Council, and Save NHS. People are trying to get an explanation, and a Facebook group has been set up to put pressure on the site to restore the groups. However, this shows the risk of relying on a closed, commercial site like Facebook for organising. To quote Guy Aitchison:
Either way, it is a scandalous abuse of power by Facebook to arbitrarily destroy online communities built up over many months and years. These groups provide a vital means for activist groups to communicate with their supporters. Ultimately, the anti-cuts movement in the UK will need to start organising through self-hosted, open source platforms to avoid reliance upon the very corporate power structures we are aiming to challenge.
Facebook is limited as a platform for campaigning, anyway, as it is fundamentally closed. It is useful for groups of people who are already acquainted, to organise events. However, very little content is available to people who are not already members of the site, and very little of the content is searchable from outside Facebook.
Facebook has shown itself to be slow to act against groups like the EDL who use the site to spread racism, hatred and division. But, today’s events show that it can act quickly against non-violent protest groups campaigning to defend jobs and services. We should not rely on the site too heavily for organising our activities.