Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Danger of Platform Dependency

We are all becoming increasingly comfortable sharing our lives and our information on different technology platforms, specifically social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and their more targeted imitators. But what happens if those platforms turn on you?

This article suggests that Facebook might be disadvantaging conservative and libertarian organizations as it provides upgrades to its "Groups" pages. Reading the story, it seems more likely that the upgrading process is just taking a while, and they'll probably get around to most everyone eventually. But imagine for a second that there's something to it: Groups that were organized through Facebook, the product of months and years of effort to win a following, could just be wiped out.

It is in the best interests of these 'universal' sites to be scrupulously neutral when it comes to politics and other areas of our social lives that tend to be controversial or inspire deep passions. (Imagine, to look at it a different way, that some diehard Red Sox fan at Facebook didn't let Yankees fans upgrade their groups.) A Facebook that drove away conservatives (or Yankees fans) might seem appealing to liberals (or Red Sox fans) in the abstract, but the network would lose countless valuable connections, and be weaker for everyone. And while you might not mind losing that one obnoxious guy you friended who posts about Obama's fake birth certificate 10 times a day, you'll probably miss those friends who happen to be conservative, but are also about a lot of other things.

So, as I said, I doubt Facebook is actually discriminating against conservative groups. But they could, and that brings up an important point. Facebook is not a utility, and it isn't part of the government. There are no laws that force it to accept everyone, or to be welcoming of all opinions and commentary. It does this because it is good for business, and if it decided it wanted to boot anyone who posts a conservative thought, it could. And so could LinkedIn, or any other network.

So if you're organizing through the Internet, it's probably a good idea to collect email addresses of your members. It isn't good to be too reliant on any one channel.

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