We take for granted many facets of the complex societies which make up what I guess we would call the “developed world”. We expect roads to be fixed. We expect running water. We expect reliable electricity. We expect proper cell phone coverage. Though these may seem as luxuries to other parts of the world, our society (in North America, Europe and parts of Asia and South America) presupposes that these services and utilities function in a reliable way.
Look at the example of phones. Phone booths and landlines have been disappearing ever since cell phones have become a reliable way to communicate. The way our society and built environment is beginning to configure itself is under the presupposition that the vast majority of individuals have access to a cell phone. One can only imagine the disastrous consequences if cell phone networks ceased to function. Our society would be screwed. Mail delivery is disappearing too. This came to be because the internet became accessible, fast and reliable. For most communication we don’t need to send a physical copy of something. We can send an email or a text or we can keep in touch using social media. We really only need it for deliveries of goods at this point. I can even get hired for job online and never step into the office of the company.
Let’s zero in on social media because that’s what I really want to talk about and I think I’ve set things up pretty good at this point. We have begun to structure and plan our lives taking for granted that we and everyone else can and will have access to social media. Along with a phone number, one of the primary ways we build relationships is by asking for someone’s Facebook or their LinkedIn to name but two. More than all the others, Facebook is the primary window into most of our lives. We post pictures there, we post our thoughts, we post things we find funny, things we find informative, etc. In essence we are communicating ourselves to the world. Facebook understands that we use it to communicate. They have a highly developed messaging function for that reason (it even has it’s own dedicated app).
When most people express fears or concerns about Facebook, it’s mostly about the fact that their life is too accessible. That photos of past drunken nights will be there for future employers to see. They worry that ex-lovers will be able to creep on their lives. These concerns are pretty easy to manage though. You can up the privacy setting to the point where you are almost a ghost. What I never hear people mention is the exact opposite. What if Facebook decided one day to just cut you off of all the people you have ever met or networked with? What if you just log on one day to discover your account has been closed and all your pictures and messaging has been lost? That’s the experience that I’m going through right now. I’m writing this because there seems to be nothing else I can do about it.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Facebook it’s that they have absolutely no concern about customer service. Why would they? They’re basically the only game in town. There are many other social networking sites out there but none of them function the same way or have the same ubiquity as Facebook. Their attitude is (somewhat understandably) that they are offering a free service so you can either take it or leave it. If you’ve been with Facebook for as long as I have (roughly 2007 as I was already finished university when it came out) then you know that while some functionalities have been added or improved, the user experience has otherwise gotten worse and worse. All of these negative changes have stemmed from the fact that Facebook is a business and in order to operate such a complicated site they need to make money. Now that they are publicly traded they also have to placate investors. The world of the movie “The Social Network” is over. Old guys with money are in charge now and they want some bang for their buck.
Most users of Facebook will be affected by advertising. That’s the classic way of monetizing an internet commodity. If you are a mom using Facebook to talk to your kids then this is pretty much as far as the nuisance goes. But those people aren’t on Facebook that much. There are other types of users like myself who use it as part of our livelihood. Maybe you do too.
I’m a dj and writer and in order to publicize my work and events I use primarily Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter). Under the name Walmer Convenience I had built up a network of Facebook friends that included most of the biggest producers and movers and shakers in the world of electronic dance music (that’s the type of music I play and that’s what I write about). I have been the admin of multiple Facebook groups that have been at the origin of, and nurtured genres and scenes that have exploded into the mainstream. Because of the connections that I had made through the Facebook account under my alias of Walmer Convenience, I have been able to play the SXSW music festival twice and tour Europe. It was through that account that I made connections with and proved my worth to the website Do Androids Dance. It’s a division of the Complex Media and has given me an even bigger platform to share my feelings on music and the industry. I used that Facebook account to build relationships with a ton of record labels and music producers and this allowed me to secure weekly exclusive music for Do Androids Dance. In sum, I would not be where I am today if it were not for that account.
But beyond the business aspect it was also a repository of memories and a place where I built many important friendships. It was a place where I was able to share feelings and wisdom with people and most importantly I was able to learn. I, like I imagine many others do, had enemies and rivals and allies there and whole relationships played out in that account. It was a really big part of my life and part of my identity over years. I had countless photos from gigs and trips. It was my Facebook.
On the side I always had another account under my personal name. But that account had my family and old highschool friends and was kind of a facade after a while so that employers would think I was a standup person. I went on it sometimes as rarely as once a month. The Walmer Convenience account was about who I really was now. It allowed me to be free to express myself to people and say things without fear that some prospective employer would freak out that I liked to party hard. I had a high social standing and thousands of friends (or “friends”). If I posted something, it was guaranteed to get multiple likes. In fact I think it had been years that I had posted something that didn’t get at least one like. Now this might seem petty but don’t act like you don’t care about that type of thing yourself. Everyone loves an ego massage I don’t care who you are. If you say you don’t you’re a liar. In their heart of hearts even the Dalai Lama and the Pope get a nice feeling from an ego boost. It’s called being human. All I had to do was go on Facebook and I could say the most inane thing imaginable and get a quick hit. In sum I liked that account and I liked what it gave me.
I know I’m not alone in this either. There are millions of other people like me. You’ll find a lot of them in the music business. They are constantly posting tweets, status updates and Instagram photos. Some would say it’s to keep in the public eye but there are many successful artists who keep private. The real reason is we like the attention. It feels good. It’s nice to have everyone caring about everything we do. I think this has always been the case for many people but with all the different social media sites we finally have outlets to really feed our hunger.
After saying all this, can you imagine how I felt logging in last Friday evening, right before a dj gig at one of the bigger venues in Toronto no less, to find out my account had been shut down?
I shouldn’t really say shut down. No, I was told that I had to change my account to a business page as I was not representing a real individual. When this happens there is no choice. There is only one button on the screen and that is to begin the process of converting your personal account to a business page. Some of you are probably thinking that’s not so bad. All my friends are converted to likes so it makes me look like a super popular commodity and I can still post stuff. Great except I now can’t directly message anyone through that page and I have lost access to all the messages I have ever sent to anyone before the conversion. I have also lost all my photos that I had ever uploaded to that account. Thus I have lost all my photos from the two SXSW festivals I played at and attended as well as my tour through Europe last fall. This was my first concern when this change was forced on me. I opened up a complaint with Facebook. I proposed that they merged my personal account and the one I had under Walmer Convenience. I pointed out how I had many photos and messages and had been essentially using the account as a personal account. I also pointed out how I already had a Walmer Convenience page as well and have no use for a second one. I got a reply email from someone named Bruce at “Community Operations”. He said because I already had a personal account I was barred from having a second one and sent me instructions on how to make my personal account an admin of the new Walmer Convenience page. He never addressed any of my proposals or any of the issues I brought up. I replied reiterating that they at least owed me a way to recover my years of correspondence of photos. I reminded him that their move was entirely unilateral and that they had given me no warning that I would lose everything when I made the transition. This Bruce replied with the exact same response and the exact same wording as his previous email. This was obviously a form email that is sent out no matter what the situation and it’s pretty obvious that whoever this Bruce is, if there even is a Bruce, he doesn’t read any of the emails that are sent to him. He probably thinks I’m a big idiot. I replied to him that I was going to make this into “a thing” and now I am.
It doesn’t end here though. You see, the timing of this forced conversion of my account is not a coincidence. Recently I published on this blog an article that was a tongue in cheek response to all the commotion around djs at festivals playing pre-recorded sets and faking djing live. You can read it here. It was shared all over the internet within the electronic music scene. Most prominently it was shared on Facebook, who could no doubt track that the initial posting of the article had come from me.
I talked earlier about the ways that Facebook has attempted to monetize it’s assets. Beyond advertising, they have also throttled the reach of posts that a page makes to the people who like that page. So for example, if I have 2000 likes maybe only 100 people will see any given post. In order to have more of the likes that you have (hopefully) worked so hard to earn see your posts, you’re gonna have to cough up some money. The implication therefore is that if I wanted to have a chance for a post like the one I did on djing at festivals go viral to that point again, I would now be forced to pay Facebook money.
What happened is either Facebook saw how well I was doing and decided to get piece of the action (so in a way extortion) and thus deleted a good part of my existence on the internet to do so. Otherwise what? Someone reported that my account was not a personal account and Facebook just closed it based on that report? That’s even worse. That means anyone who has a problem with a person on Facebook can do that and that Facebook will just delete peoples lives on a dime. I personally think the former reason is the real one.
This is the risk that we run when we trust private companies to not only be a means of communication (like the phone) but a repository of our lives and a form for our relationships. I think we often forget that Facebook is not a public space. It’s really more akin to a shopping mall than a city neighbourhood. You can be booted out at any time. You can become banned. All this at the discretion of the owner of the space. People made a fuss about it a few years ago but it seems like we forgot that everything that we post to Facebook becomes their property to dispose as they like. Even our communication. In the unlikely event that Facebook, Twitter and Google decided you weren’t welcome to use their services you would basically disappear. There is nothing stopping them from doing this. They don’t make it a habit because it would destroy them.
So now I’m left to pick up the pieces. I have to use my personal account under my actual name and I am forced to re-add everyone. It’s really annoying because I don’t remember every single person I was friends with before. Also a lot of the people I networked with are now big stars and Facebook won’t even let me add them so I have to ask them to add me. It’s a very tedious and ego eroding process. Basically I have to rebuild a big chunk of my online presence (thus my business presence) from practically zero.
Furthermore they killed part of my identity. As I said before, I liked being Walmer Convenience. That’s how people knew me and now I have to reintroduce myself and it has truly set me back years in my field. I know many of you who are reading this have also cultivated a certain identity on the internet. Imagine being forced to stop. It’s like a piece of your personality was cut off.
My point is that if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. There are many people who use Facebook the same way as I did and hope to in the future. My fate could befall any of you. There are many people who are more successful and connected than me and who have put more of their memories and existence on Facebook. The loss could be even greater.
There is no way to back up your social life. It’s at the mercy of these companies that are at the mercy of shareholders who don’t care about you and your life and your pictures of your vacation. At any moment it could all disappear. I’m definitely reconsidering my use and dependence on social media after this and I think you should as well.
It sounds crazy, but the solution to this problem would almost be for there to be a publicly owned social media network or some kind of legislation that protects the rights and the property of people posting on these social networks. We can’t ignore their place in our society anymore. If they want to occupy this space then they should behave themselves better. I for one would be willing to pay a small subscription rate if it meant I had greater control and retained ownership over the content that I share.
I know what I’m writing sounds like total “first world problems”. That’s a stupid way of dismissing things though. I live in the first world. What other problems am I supposed to have? It’s not my fault I wasn’t born in a war zone or into famine. In the 21st century in North America these are our problems. That’s just the way it is.