Law in the Internet Society

(DE)VALUING FACEBOOK?: How to Change People's Perspective and Preferences [REVISION]

-- By DavidKorvin - 21 Dec 2012


In my first draft, I argued that though I did not particularly like Facebook nor did I feel comfortable using it as a means of communication, I still felt compelled to use it on a daily basis because all of my friends use it. However, as we progressed in our discussions this semester, and spoke of the ways in which Facebook serves to manipulate and restrict personal liberty, it became increasingly clear to me that I no longer felt comfortable using my Facebook account as a means of socializing on the internet. The easy party was deactivating my personal Facebook account and joining Diaspora*, which emphasizes that “you shouldn’t have to trade away your personal information” to connect socially. Though am I am very new to the program (and not particularly gifted with technology), I have thus far enjoyed my experience because it allows for a more creative, personalized profile. (One application I have particularly enjoyed using is, which is a way to collect photos on-line.) Additionally, because Diaspora* is open source, I no longer feel pressured to put my data on Facebook’s pre-determined server.

The easy part was personally choosing to join Diaspora* and become more involved in the open source movement; the more difficult part will be to convince my friends to do the same. The rest of this essay will focus on how individuals, such as myself, can convince friends that are currently deeply entrenched in Facebook’s platform that there are better options out there on the internet, such as Diaspora*.

Diaspora* is FREE

I think the best way to get people to initially use open source social platforms such as Diaspora* is to emphasize that [1] it costs nothing to join, and [2] there are no monthly charges to remain a member. From my experiences, the best way to get someone to try something new is to highlight how there is nothing to lose by trying the new option.

At first, I believe that many people that start using Diaspora* will not deactivate their Facebook account immediately. However, I think that many people will enjoy their Diaspora* experience more, and over time people will spend less and less time on Facebook.

Additionally, I think it is important to note that though Facebook does not currently cost its users any money, it runs the risk that non-neutral intermediaries will start charging users for touching, which makes its long-term sustainability quite vulnerable; Diaspora*, because it is open source, does not face this same third party pressure.

Therefore, I feel that the most powerful action I can take is to get friends of mine to try Diaspora*, and I think that the best way for me to initially convince them to do so is to remind them that joining is costless and there is only upside in trying it as an alternative to Facebook.

Facebook's Privacy Problem

Another way that I can try to convince my friends that they are better off leaving Facebook is to underscore the huge privacy shortcoming of the platform with them. Many of my friends are currently in law school, and I think it is fair to say that we are all very concerned with our reputations- both professional and personal- moving forward. One of the major problems with Facebook is that it puts a user’s information into a centralized database, and once it enters this database it is no longer under the exclusive control of that user; this, in effect, serves to disempower Facebook users. On the other hand, platforms such as Diaspora* allow for secure sharing without central monitoring or storage.

Because we are so concerned with our reputations, I believe that data mining poses a real threat to us. (Of course, data mining has an impact on everyone, but in this essay I am attempting to explore how I can make a difference, and for better and for worst, most of the people I interact with on a daily basis are aspiring lawyers.) Facebook not only tracks what I individually publish, but also what I access, what others publish that relates to me, what others access that relates to me. I think that most people are well aware of the first track, but that they are much less aware of the latter three methods Facebook uses to track its users.

In my circle of friends, I think I can help nudge friends away from Facebook by clearly delineating ALL the methods Facebook employs to track its users, and how these methods constrict one’s freedom in a way that is absolutely impermissible when there are alternative options out there. I am quite certain that not one of my friends would feel comfortable using Facebook if they knew all of the devastating short- and long-term damages that Facebook imposes upon its users; the more I think about it, the more I feel it is my obligation to inform them about this harm.


The main problem in combatting Facebook is that it is currently the on-line social platform that most people use, and from my experience, most people are resistant to change. For a long time, I thought it was enough for me to simply deactivate my Facebook account; however, because of Facebook’s huge size, I think a more active approach is necessary to combat it. For example, I no longer that that it is enough to lead by example, and my current goal is to tell my friends about the problems of Facebook and also demonstrate the benefits of using on-line social platforms such as Diaspora*. I know that I cannot force people to leave Facebook, but I think I can make a difference just by letting others know that a desirable social networking experience exists without Facebook.

My impression from our recent conversation is that this may not have been a tenable position for you to occupy in the longer term. It sounded good to you back then, but perhaps it wasn't so straightforward.

But the good news, not reflected in the essay, is that may not have mattered. Perhaps you didn't find it as easy to turn the people around you into free software users who avoided sharing with unfree, surveilling services like Facebook. But the central value of Diaspora* is its determination to implement a crucial migration path to federated social networking. People have to be able to use better technology while staying in touch with actual friends who continue to use the centralized systems where a "superfriend," the service operator, gets to see everything. If everyone who wants to use better sharing has to convince others to move to something different, the result may be discouraging. So the point of Diaspora*, or anything that follows in its wake, has to be that it will permit "soft migration": as your friends migrate, the sharing becomes safer and more secure. But no one ever loses touch with people who remain "behind." So long as you are sharing some particular bits (photos, status updates, microblog entries) with some people through central-storage services (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter), those bits will be stored where the services put them. You will also be sharing those same bits with other people who, like you, use the federated service. That sharing will occur with strong security, and you will be the one storing and serving your bits, so there will be no log somewhere else showing who accessed what you were sharing, how often, from where, etc. As your friends move away from the centralized services, whenever that happens, you stop sharing bits through those storage locations, your traffic disappears from the surveillance stream, and the people who read what you share stop being watched while they do. Eventually, all your friends have moved, no one is sharing anything of yours anymore through the centralized services, and you've regained privacy.

Timing isn't crucial. When we have a strong, federated platform that allows people to do all the sharing they currently do, more securely, because there's no "man in the middle" sorting all the data and looking through it all he wants, that's going to be the "coolest" thing there is to use, and every young person will switch away from surveilled social networking. They will carry others with them, as young people carried older people to Facebook. There's lots more to say about all this, but the crucial point is understanding how the soft migration process works. Your essay would be stronger if it dealt with those ideas.


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r8 - 05 Mar 2013 - 23:01:27 - EbenMoglen
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