Where is Social Media Going?

I have always been a fan of the United Nurses of Alberta website. Now I’m a fan of their smartphone app, too: it rightly won the Canadian Association of Labour Media’s 2018 award for Most Innovative Online Tool. Still, the offering that wins my Most Fun App Award is WorkersCity, created by the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, in Hamilton, Ontario. The free download at WAHC’s site offers five self-guided walking tours and will take you through the city’s working-class geography and back in time. (Don’t forget to visit WAHC, too.) I’m a fan of working-class-history walking tours and while I’d rather have a guide to talk to and ask questions of, Workers City is a fine example of how to offer tours when that guide isn’t available.

OK, so while I become more and more concerned with where Facebook is taking us, it remains relevant and useful just because of its universality. (Did I just say something positive about the Bad Book?!) To get a sense of how that reach can make an amazing difference when people share a common frustration and a common goal, read Lois Weiner’s In These Times article, “Inside the Closed Facebook Groups Where the Teacher Strikes Began.”

Implicit in her article is that Facebook worked as a mobilizing tool but didn’t have much to contribute to educating and organizing those American teachers who went on to stage massive strikes. Put it another way: if your target audience is on top of the issues, organized and motivated, social media can be a great way to get them moving in the same direction and at the same time. But the hard work gets done elsewhere, though Facebook and Twitter and the rest may take the credit just because they were there at the finish line.

Web-based Hospo Voice is an on-line union for hospitality workers in Australia. Read Melissa Davey’s short Guardian piece, “Online union launched to fight ‘wage theft’ and harassment of hospitality workers” and compare their experience to the U.S. teachers’ Facebook experience. Score? Hospo: 1. Facebook: 0.

So who else watched Zuckerberg’s testimony in Washington on April 10? Three things struck me as I skipped through the PR drivel looking for something useful (thank the Cosmic Muffin for PVRs — personal video recorders — and their SKIP buttons). First: his assertion that there will always be a free version of Facebook. Huh. Meaning there may be one that is not. Second: the people in Facebook’s homeland who are charged with devising or at least approving the regulations and legislation that govern it haven’t a clue what it is, what it does, or why it does it, let alone how. Third: Facebook is giving serious consideration to brazenly asking us to pay to ensure that it doesn’t sell our data to third parties. Compensation for its loss of the “right” to sell our shopping, eating, pooping and political preferences to someone or something like, oh, say Cambridge Analytica.


So what are the alternatives? Setting yourself free is hard enough, as this Associated Press story shows: “Breaking up is hard to do: Why leaving Facebook is more difficult than it looks.” But imagine trying to disentangle a union, even a local union or a small labour council. You’d have to pick a new platform, and then gradually wean yourself off Facebook and onto the new one. And you’d have to convince everyone who has liked your Facebook page, joined your group or friended your account to make the move, too — while you’re forced to linger on Facebook, simply because that is where their kids and grandkids are.

Or is that how it would have to work? Why would you need a new platform when the web and email are still as universal as Facebook, or even more so? Will your older members need Facebook to stay in touch with the kids when the kids are drifting away from it? (Read Fast Company’s article “Teens are Ditching Facebook Like Mad.”)

Just to hammer the point home a bit more, the other, perhaps THE, nice thing about email is that it takes an awful lot to have your ISP or mail service delete or disable your account. Unlike Facebook, which has had and still has an enthusiasm for deleting accounts when those accounts do anything at all controversial, as this telesur story shows: “Facebook Deletes Gaza-Based News Agency Safa’s Account Hosting 1.3M Followers.” If you want to give going cold turkey a try, read Irwin Oostindie’s Tyee article, “Should You Quit Facebook,” for some inspiration.


The new PR blitz at the major social media networks has the potential to make things much more difficult for organizing new members and organizing the organized, as I alluded to in my last column. Those of us managing multiple Twitter accounts using an external manager like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck can now only post to one Twitter account at a time. In the past, the same tweet could go out via any number of accounts. Not anymore.

Over on Facebook, changes to the way posts are handled and displayed in the past year have generated a steady stream of anecdotal and “gut feeling” discussions about a reduction in the reach of pages and groups for those who don’t pay to have their posts boosted. A couple of folks in the UK’s non-profit/charity sector are making an attempt at a real analysis of what’s happening to our reach. Stay tuned. But look for more changes like this.

As with Facebook, there’s still some life left in Twitter, as its role in the recent UK university strike over pensions shows. Read Nicole Kobie’s Wired article, “#NoCapitulation: How one hashtag saved the UK university strike.” With an audience already educated and organized, a charged and simple issue, and some basic understanding of how the platform works, Twitter can be a quick and dirty way to do an awful lot.


Cheer up. There is some unalloyed good stuff happening out there, too. Take a break from groaning at the thought of what a Facebookless, untweeted union would look like and have some fun. Get a sense of what is coming for the Giant Nasties of Silicon Valley by reading Nick Statt’s article in The Verge about how game designers are getting their organizing act together (“Game developers look to unions to fix the industry’s exploitative workplace culture”). While you’re at it, check out the monthly (or thereabouts) podcast from the good folks at Working Class History. They, of course, have a website, anchoring their fun Twitter feed. A daily dose of global labour history is my fave way to start the day.

Any half-decent Marxist (or even a decrepit one like me) knows that everything contains within it the contradictions that will, eventually, rise up to destroy it. Uber is no exception. Check out Alex Rosenblat’s feature article for Fast Company, “The Network Uber Drivers Built,” about how Uber drivers are going online to share and compare notes.

Doorey’s Law of Work blog gets a weekly check-in from me. I was reminded, more than usual, of why with this update: “Someone (a York Employee) Purchased ‘CUPE3903.com’ to Redirect Traffic to York University’s Strike Page. Did They Break Any Laws?” Among a few other important points, David Doorey reminds us just how easy it can be to pretend to be someone or something else on the web, all by popping a few loonies to buy a domain name.


Sally McManus, general-secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, continues to represent the wave of new energy and old (militant) tactics rolling through the Australian movement. A small piece of this is The New Daily, an online media outlet carrying progressive takes on the news news. It publishes lots of news involving unions doing good and useful things, but not union news. Consider it news-news from a union-friendly perspective — with entertainment, sports and even a puzzles section. It’s a full-featured alternative to the dominant right-wing press in Australia. Check it out and drool.

Derek Blackadder is the co-ordinator for LabourStart in Canada and an honourary member of the Toronto Workers' History Project’s Archive Committee. Feedback and ideas for future WebWork topics welcome. 


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