Facebook Is Not a Good Political Organizing Platform

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When politics moves online, it remains the big, difficult collective action problem that it's always been. The specific technologies we use, though, do shape the mechanics of how people solve that problem. Tech President points out an intriguing post by activist Adina Levin arguing that Facebook's social model breaks for organizers.

[T]here's a pretty serious problem, it seems to me, in the use of Facebook for organizing. It's hard to get to know people on Facebook.

In the Facebook social model, it's not very socially acceptable to "friend" someone you don't actually know. The Facebook model is designed for people who are already "friends". A "friend" relationship is symmetrical - both need to acknowledge the relationship. Facebook does have a separate built-in asymmetrical type of relationship. Institutions or celebrities can create "pages" that fans can "like". The model sets up a hard dichotomy between people, who have friends, and celebrities who have fans. It doesn't make social sense for a celebrity or institution to "like" one of its fans. By contrast, in Twitter, it is easy and socially acceptable to follow someone without their following you back. With this affordance and social practice, it is easy to become familiar with someone's tweets, and use lightweight social gestures including retweets and replies to over time get their attention and make their acquaintance.

Read the full story by Adina Levin.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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