Constrained publishing

Somehow, I ended up liking Facebook. I mean, it’s a black hole. It’s a pit where losing one own’s writings and all, and where sharing cat shots. Trivial stuff gets published every day, trivial photos and quotes and cat shots. You either republish stuff or push the famed “Like” button. Sometime wishing there were a “Don’t like” button.

2001 A Space Odissey. Apes and the Monolith.


You loose your rights and control over your own media, which is exactly why people get mad at FB’s continuous changing of its own ground rules. But people keep on doing that.

I can certainly see the advantages. I got myself subscribed, for instance, to a few singers, authors and tv series which help me sort out their doings. Good stuff, useful. Which brings me to asking in earnest: Why do such people put up the FB front while they could easily create a WordPress page or blog and live happily ever after? I mean, a blog would allow for maximum flexibility and multipurposing of the page, while giving all the space one could need to get interactivity with readers or participants. A blog would let them be the owners of their own content and media. Plus, it would be completely open, fully searchable and quotable. So why, oh why?

Take a FB page and you will get an Instagram-like page of quick exchanges, sometimes blog-like ones, but most times short texts with images or videos. And that’s it. So, it occurs to me, these people -who generally don’t have the savvy nor the time to pursue a more advanced social publishing medium- they go facebooking perhaps because they don’t know better. They  have really no idea of the pros and cons of both approaches, nor have they any appreciation of the open ethos of publishing content which contributes to human knowledge without restrictions and that other people may reuse or repurpose. They seek only a simple way to publish their work, or their stories, within a socially accepted medium. So WordPress to them is completely transparent, because, at its essence, WP is not a social network and Tumblr, well, it’s not taken too seriously.

In this sense, FB doubles as a menace to the free world. Like the apes around the monolith in 2001: A Space Odissey, we are orbiting around a giant monolithic structure feeding us  information and interaction according to our needs. Facebook closes the world upon us, and it feeds us whatever we choose within its choices: A Constrained Discovery platform, as Michael L. Best posits in his “The Internet That Facebook Built“, Communications of the ACM 57, no. 12 (November 26, 2014).

And as Facebook further targets its content based upon disclosures, users increasingly find themselves trapped within a “search bubble” where information discovery is skewed toward outcomes predetermined by this very architecture. Intimate disclosures begat constrained discovery.

It is thus all-encompassing and all-powerful. It is built to self sustain. In its offering of “free” Internet access, Zuckerberg “is not proposing increased access to the open Internet, but instead the creation of a walled garden for the world’s poor, free to enter while exacting premium payments to leave.”

The author of this little gem of an article continues:

While Facebook’s business model is based on intimate disclosure (to my taste, often banal and narcissistic), the Internet’s hopeful promise to the Global South is for rich civic discourse, democratic development, and economic opportunity. It is possible that these two objectives are not only inconsistent but even in opposition. [my bold]

Thus, to go back to our original discussion, it is precisely this opposition, what I’m worried about. That people like writers, otherwise very attentive to new media’s affordances, do not see the pitfalls, even when they come as Trojan Horses. I think those who write, produce and share content have a sort of obligation to stand true to their office and ought to know the media with whom they have allegiance. They ought to go with open tools.

In the meanwhile, FB sucks people even closer to its event horizon with this mechanism that author José Marichal (The Architecture of Disclosure and the Threat to Public Life, Ashgate 2012) calls the “architecture of disclosure”: A technology which “shapes the construction of individuals’ political identities by drawing users further into their pre-selected social networks. ” Thus, the consumption of the FB timeline, plus the highly-piloted production and sharing of user-generated content (cat shots, etc.) attracts the user even more subtly and deeply into the maelstrom, without his feeling so. We then get what we want, provided Facebook has the algorithmic means to analyze our production and clicks and likes so to provide us with ever interesting and simulating content. Also FB gets what it wants, in an extraordinary Faustian bargain, in which we don’t even understand the user is losing something. Problem is: Who will provide us with What We Do Not Want –or, at least, with What We Do Not (Yet Know We) Want?

Isn’t this not the responsibility of journalists and writers and authors? Why this class has succumbed to the higher interests of the powers that be and lost us in the middle? Where is then the free press? Is there one left? This interview with Chris Hedges, former NY Times journalist: ‘We’ve decapitated more civilians than ISIS ever has’, shows we have little reasons to believe there’s a free press in the US, at least. Oh my, I started with a less pessimistic view and see where I am at… connecting the Facebook affair with the free press.

So, what is one supposed to do? Stop using FB is not probably the solution: losing the little conversations with distant friends would be hard. Diaspora? Only thing, my friends, is to ask the writers, authors, singers, and all who produce serious content, to flee Facebook for that purpose and use use it only for cat photo shooting. Come home to blogging.

About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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