Over the last few months changes made by Facebook have greatly reduced the effectiveness of Events and Pages because it has become much less likely that someone following a page will see posts made by that page. According to Facebook on average only 12% of followers will see a given post. In 2011 Facebook did the same to events, multiple changes in the way events work saw response rates to event invitations decline from around 80% of those invited responding to this figure often being less than 20%.
At least in terms of the changes made to Pages Facebook were fairly open as to what they hoped to achieve. They rolled out a program whereby page owners could pay Facebook in order to promote posts they made to their pages. The cost to promote any single post is temptingly low, it would cost about 8 euro for instance to insure for a particualr post that it would be seen by every follower of an 8,000 follower page.
I don't intend to discuss these changes themselves in much more detail as they have been extensively blogged already, see for instance I want my Friend back . What I want to argue here is that we need to recognised that Facebook has become a utility and that therefore it is time to take it into collective social ownership and out of the hands of shareholders.
Facebook as a utility
Today a billion people have Facebook accounts and use these accounts for everything from seeing the latest snapshots of their grandchildren to telling their friends they are engaged. We use it to tell friends when we are having a house warming party or to swap stories and photos in the aftermath of the party. We use it to express outrage and to organise ourselves to protest, Facebook was central to the story of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and to the rapid spread of Occupy in 2012.
Like it or not Facebook has now become as essential in many of our lives as our mobile phones or the ability to get post delivered. It is not of course as essential as getting electricity, gas or water into our homes but all the same it is not at all ludicrous to draw a comparison with all the services I've mentioned. This means we should and to insist that as Facebook has become a utility that is so essential to the conduct of our lives it makes no sense to allow it to continue as a privately owned company.
The examples we are talking about here where this private company has taken the business decision to seriously damage the quality of its Pages & Events service to generate profits are simply unacceptable. Make no mistake that is what they have done. When, as consumers, we choose to like a Page it is because we want updates from that page delivered to us. What Facebook has done it a bit like after subscribing to a newspaper or magazine, we only see 1 issue in 8 subsequently arrived unless the publishers choose to pay the post office or delivery company extra to ensure deliver of every issue. Facebook have chosen to hurt the interests of their consumers in order to make profits for the shareholder.
When Enron did the same with California's electricity supply there was eventually a scandal of such a magnitude that senior executives were jailed. I'd recommend the movie 'The Smartest Men in the Room' for those unfamiliar with that story. This is exactly what capitalism does, in particular when a company has managed to generate a near monopoly position so that there really isn't a choice to go elsewhere. There are alternative services to Facebook but our grandparents & friends don't use those so they are no more an alternative than a phone that could only call 5% of the population would be.
This is why Facebook needs to be taken out of private ownership and into collective social ownership. What do I mean by this? I mean that its not a question of demanding that Facebook be nationalised by some government. I'd no more expect the US government to operate Facebook in the interests of consumers in Italy or Turkey or Libya than I would Zuckerberg & co. I mean instead that Facebook should be owned by a co-operative composed of all its users and all those that maintain it. A classic worker - consumer co-op for the modern era, just like the ones that in previous generations were used to break the influence of corporations on company towns. Those working for Facebook should not only have control over their work, they should have the expectation of permanent, pensionable jobs with good benefits, as indeed should the rest of us.
How will we make this happen? Well that I don't intend to provide an easy answer to because truthfully I don't yet know how we will do this. I do know that mass movements have grappled with similar issues in the past and come up with a variety of solutions - we can perhaps start by learning from them. But, to be cheeky about it, I do invite you to join the Facebook page 'Make this a utility that is collectively & socially owned' where we can start to discuss this in more detail. (Facebook wouldn't allow us to call the page Make Facebook a utility that is collectively & socially owned!)
Follow the page - but don't forget to check for updates!