Why I am no longer on Facebook/Twitter etc

About two months ago, I suspended/deleted my accounts on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, and even earlier I had suspended my Skype account. With these steps, I turned my back on popular so-called "social networks" and communication platforms. But why?

The privatisation of the internet

There has been criticism of Facebook and Twitter regarding the privacy of the data provided and uploaded by users for a long time. With changing end user agreements, the details of the criticism might change, but the general gist of it remains: data uploaded by users belongs to Facebook, Google, Twitter & Co, and they can use it in whatever way they please, with the exception of personal data such as name, address, email, etc. But basically, when you upload a photo to Facebook, you grant Facebook all the rights to the photo, including the right to make money with it.
However, while all this criticism of a lack of privacy and data protection is highly relevant, my main reasons to finaly say goodbye to these privately owned social networks is a different one: the privatisation of the internet.
I think with Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other such services we can observe a development on the internet very similar to one related to physical spaces in our towns and cities: the privatisation of public spaces. Democracy needs public spaces to flourish, and in the past these were our town and city squares, or any place where people could meet, socialise, discuss, or demonstrate. With the arrival of private shopping malls, these public spaces - open to everyone - increasingly disappear, and with them democracy, the right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. In a privately owned shopping mall, these rights do not exist (unless we fight for them again, that is), and if the owner of the shopping mall doesn't like you, then you are denied access - homeless people are a case in point.
Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc are a similar development on the internet - they are privately controlled spaces within the - until now - mainly public internet. Access to these private spaces is controlled by the respective user agreement, and if you do not agree with them, or are seen as violating the agreement, then you will be out - and all your data is still owned by Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc...
The public character of the internet was - until now - guaranteed by open access. You could just create an email account at one of thousands of private providers (such as GMail, MSN, GMX, Yahoo, etc), and so be at their mercy, or - if you didn't like that - you could set up your own server with an email server, and have your own email address (and website, if you wanted to). No matter what you did, you could communicate with everyone else. In this sense the internet was still a public space, even if private providers played and play an important role. On a very principled level, everyone can have access, and can communicate with everyone else.
Not so with the private social networks. If you are not on Facebook, you are not on Facebook, and cannot see Facebook users' status updates, etc, nor can you communicate with them. The same applies to Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever else there is. These are fundamentally private spaces, incompatible with public access and therefore democracy. They might claim to be open, democratic, social, or whatever - but that's not more than a business model, and not supported by a public and democratic structure.

Activist alternatives

As an anarchist, I could therefore no longer reconcile the contradiction between the political reality of privately owned social networks, and their alleged usefulness for campaigning (and I don't deny that they can be useful - but people should also be aware that campaigning groups and activists got their accounts suspended). The means are the ends, as Gandhi said, and I wonder if we really should use the means provided by private, profit oriented companies, even if they seem useful in the short term, when they are clearly in contradiction to our ends.
I believe that we need to defend the ethos of an open, public, democratic internet, also when it comes to social networking. There are alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, & Co, even though they might at present be mainly used by geeks and hardcore activists, but then, this will not change if we do not make use of these democratic and open alternatives.
The core principal here should be the general principle of the internet: open standard based and not controlled by a central, private company, but based on a network of servers communicating with each other, with the possibility for anyone to add their own server, and being able to communicate with everybody else (this is how email and websites work).
The following alternatives exist:

  • status.net: a distributed, Twitter-like social network

  • Diaspora: an open source, distributed social network

  • Friendica: another open source, distributed social network

Unfortunately, at present open standards based distributed social network are still in their infancy. A generally recognised open standard for social networks does not yet exist. Nevertheless, I do think it is important to support these initiatives, and to protect and reclaim the internet as a public and democratic social space.