Recent events in the Middle East and rapid developments in the way we protest here in the UK have shown that Social Networking can be a powerful tool for Social Justice.

Hopefully modern communications technology may yet help to save the life of heroic Benghazi citizen Iman al-Obeidi. Obeidi was held captive for two days by the henchmen of Libyan dictator, Maummar Gaddafi; during which time she was raped, beaten and urinated on. Bravely, upon her release, she refused to remain silent and told journalists what had happened to her, only to be kidnapped by armed thugs right in front of those journalists.

Within hours, news of the kidnapping of Iman al-Obeidi spread around the world, with video and photos going viral on the Internet. Twitter hash-tags appeared with varied spellings of Obeidi’s name #EmanAlObeidy, #EmanAlObeidi, #EmanAlObaidy and #WhereIsEmanAlObeidy, and two Facebook pages began on the same day; the English language Free Iman al-Obeidi and the Arabic كلنا أهل إيمان العبيدي (We are all people of faith-Obeidi).

Clearly the Internet and Social Networking sites are important tools for anyone fighting for liberty, but we should never forget that these Social Networks are themselves corporations, each with their own agenda. Facebook has a particularly bad track record when it comes to political activism, as Philippe Rivière outlined in December 2010 edition of Le Monde diplomatique:

Sensitive pages – such as those created by a support group for Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of having passed military secrets on the war in Iraq to WikiLeaks – are occasionally suspended, then reinstated a few days later, without any explanation. To help prevent spamming, members are invited to report nuisance messages: Facebook then suspends the nuisance user’s account. All kinds of activists have used this manoeuvre to get their political adversaries suspended. Facebook also occasionally succumbs to the temptation of censorship, blocking links to file-sharing, artistic or political websites – or sites such as such as seppukkoo.com, which tells users how to delete their information and leave Facebook.

Indeed in the run up to yesterday’s half-a-million strong ‘March for the Alternative’ in London many Facebook pages, such as Resist 26, were suspended with a message stating that the event had been canceled!

Not a bad turnout for a 'canceled' event

And although the advertising is not ‘in your face’, so to speak, Facebook is also an incredibly powerful marketing tool; Rivière again:

The personal data supplied so freely by Facebook users are highly coveted. They allow far more precisely targeted marketing – by gender, age, date of birth, language, country, city, educational background, interests, etc – than traditional media surveys, to audiences approaching the size of those commanded by television. … Among the most popular pages are those of brands such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Oreo, which attract audiences of 10-25 million.

Just as marketing data is rich pickings for corporations, your political and social views are of great interest to governments. The wise, of course, are guarded in their comments and postings, but in perhaps the scariest paragraph of his column Philippe Rivière hints at what the future may hold for us all:

At the Techonomy conference on 4 August 2010, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said: “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos!” This state of affairs was not only irrevocable but also, in his eyes, necessary: “In a world of asymmetric threats, true anonymity is too dangerous… You need a name service for humans… governments are going to require it.”

Although it is still possible to cheat, it will be increasingly difficult to do so in the future. The world’s most powerful online architects and its political leaders plan to “civilise” the free internet, which they still see as a lawless zone. If they succeed in domesticating the internet, stating your real identity will be the price you have to pay in order to enjoy full access. The word “web” was originally an image used to describe a decentralised system of interconnected information networks. Nobody imagined that a spider would actually take up residence at its centre and start spying on the activities of all internet users.

For further details on Facebook we recommend Tom Hodgkinson’s pamphlet ‘We Want Everyone: Facebook and the New American Right‘, beautifully produced by printing/design genius, Christian Brett, it is available either directly from Bracket Press or as a signed edition from The Idler.

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