Why Facebook users’ “strikes” don’t work (and how can we fix them)?

Another day, another call for a Facebook “users’ strike”. This one would allegedly run from May 25 to June 1, 2018. It seems to be a one-man stunt, though (“As a collective, I propose we log out of our Facebook…”). Also, it claims to be “the first ever” strike of this kind.

Yet, since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, new calls for strikes have been popping up every few days. As far as I know, the first one dates back to March 21 (although the actual strike is scheduled on May 18, 2018). The organizer is a seasoned Boston Globe journo, who likely just discovered what digital labor is and is SO excited to tell you:

“I like the idea of a strike, because we users are the company’s real labor force. We crank out the millions of posts and photos and likes and links that keep people coming back for more.”

On April 9, 2018 an an obscure Sicilian newspaper called a strike action (which, in Italian, sounds like “sciopero degli utenti di Facebook”). It actually turned out to be an article about the “Faceblock” which did take place on April 11, 2018. It was a 24-hour boycott against Instagram, FB and WhatsApp organized by someone who describe themselves as “a couple of friends with roots in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, the UK and the US” (a tad confusing, if you ask me).

Of course, May 1st was a perfect time to call for other Facebook strikes. This one, for instance, is organized by a pseudonymous “Odd Bert”, who also mentions a fictional Internet User Union (which seems to be banned by Facebook). This other one looked a bit like some kind of e-commerce/email scam, but produced three sets of grievances.

“On May 1st, 2018, Facebook users are going on strike unless the company agrees to the following terms:

A. Full Transparency for American and British Voters

  1. Facebook shares the exact date it discovered Russian operatives had purchased ads.
  2. Facebook shares the exact dollar amount Russian operatives spent on political ads.
  3. Facebook shares the 3,000+ ads that Russian operatives ran during 2016.
  4. Facebook reveals how many users saw the fake news stories highlighted by BuzzFeed.
  5. Facebook lets an independent organization audit all political ads run during 2016.
  6. Facebook gives investigators all “Custom Lists” used for targeting 2016 political ads.
  7. Facebook stops running paid political ads until January 1st, 2019.
  8. Mark Zuckerberg (CEO) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO) testify before Congress in an open-door (televised) session.
  9. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg testify before the UK parliament.

B. Full Transparency and Increased Privacy for Facebook Users

  1. Facebook explains to users exactly what personal data is being used for advertising.
  2. Facebook asks users for itemized consent to use photos, messages, etc. for advertising.
  3. Facebook gives users the ability to see a “history” of all the ads they have viewed.
  4. Facebook lets an independent organization investigate all data breaches since 2007.
  5. Facebook agrees to be audited monthly to make sure it is complying with local laws.
  6. Facebook allows users to easily delete their “history” on the platform.

C. Better Safety for Children on Facebook

  1. Facebook increases the minimum age for Facebook users from 13 to 16.
  2. Facebook shuts down the Messenger Kids product.”

Users’ strikes are hardly new. In 2009, the Spanish social media Tuenti was concerned by a huelga de los usuarios against their terms of service. In 2015, Reddit users disrupted the platform when they revolted en masse in solidarity with a wrongly terminated employee. On Facebook, users’ collective action is inherent to the life of the platform, whose history is replete with examples of petitions, lawsuits, and class actions. After the introduction of Beacon in 2007, a 50,000-strong petition led to its discontinuation. In 2010 several users’ groups organized and lobbied US senators and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to oppose the introduction of the ‘like’ button social plugin on external websites. In 2011, the association Europe versus Facebook filed numerous complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and a class action which is presently discussed by the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2016, the real-life protests and general mobilization against the introduction of Free Basics in India led to its successful ban by the telecommunication authority TRAI, over net neutrality and privacy concerns.

As my co-authors and I argued in our 2014 book Against the Hypothesis of the ‘End of Privacy’, the adoption of pervasive data collection practices by social platforms has been highly contentious, with frequent and cyclical privacy incidents followed by strong mass reactions. What these reactions have in common is that they are strategic, organized, collectives actions that rely on existing communities. Which could provide essential clues as to why the 2018 Facebook strikes are so ineffective. Their do not seem to be organized by active members of existing communities and they certainly do not engage with elected officials or institutional bodies. They are launched by journalists, startup bros, anonymous users trying to get noticed. These persons’ idea of grassroots is a naive one: one heroic individual (or a nonexistent “union”) sparks a revolt, hence the masses follow.

Importantly, they seem to put excessive faith in strikes seen as their only available tactic. A recent article published by a group of Stanford and Microsoft computer scientists captures this romanticized vision of “powerful” industrial actions where users stand hand in hand and nobody crosses the picket line:

“Data laborers could organize a “data labor union” that would collectively bargain with siren servers. While no individual user has much bargaining power, a union that filters platform access to user data could credibly call a powerful strike. Such a union could be an access gateway, making a strike easy to enforce and on a social network, where users would be pressured by friends not to break a strike, this might be particularly effective.”

Nevertheless, as past experiences on social platforms have taught us, successful actions adopt a specific repertoire of contention dominated not by strikes (which are usually costly and difficult to coordinate) but by lobbying and litigation. If we expect Facebook users grievances to be heard, a comprehensive and wide-ranging strategy is necessary to boost their rights. Community, organization, and the selection of effective tools are the three pillars of collective action.

Greek national newspaper I Kathimerini about “Qu’est-ce Que le Digital Labor?” (1 Nov. 2015)

Ioanna Fotiadi interviewed me for the Greek national newspaper I Kathimerini about our recent book “Qu’est-ce que le digital labor?”

Τα «ίχνη» μας αποδίδουν κέρδη…



Την επόμενη φορά που θα σας κατηγορήσουν ότι «χαζολογάτε» στο facebook και ξημεροβραδιάζεστε ασκόπως μπροστά στον υπολογιστή, απαντήστε χωρίς περιστροφές ότι εργάζεστε. Αν σας αμφισβητήσουν, παραπέμψτε τους στο συγγραφικό πόνημα των Antonio Casilli και Dominique Cardon «Qu’est-ce que le Digital Labor? » [«Τι είναι η ψηφιακή εργασία;»]. «Κάθε μας δημοσίευση, κάθε σχόλιο ή ακόμα και σύνδεσή μας σε εφαρμογή του κινητού ή σε κάποιο από τα κοινωνικά δίκτυα πρέπει να θεωρείται κάτι ανάλογο με εργασία», εξηγεί στην «Κ» κατηγορηματικά ο Ιταλός κοινωνιολόγος Antonio Casilli, ένας από τους δύο συγγραφείς του βιβλίου, καθηγητής στο Paris Tech (Paris Institute of Technology) και συνεργάτης ερευνητής στο EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales).Εως σήμερα μπορεί να θεωρούσαμε τους χρήστες του διαδικτύου «καταναλωτές», στην ουσία όμως αποτελούν την κινητήριο δύναμή του. «Οτιδηποτε μοιραζόμαστε στο διαδίκτυο, όχι μόνο αφήνει ανεξίτηλα “ίχνη’ αλλά θέτει σε εγρήγορση μια ολόκληρη παραγωγική διαδικασία», περιγράφει ο κ. Casilli. «Χωρίς τους χρήστες το Ιντερνετ και οι μεγάλες διαδικτυακές πλατφόρμες δεν θα είχαν λόγο ύπαρξης». Ουσιαστικά, αυτό αφορά κάθε μορφή διαδικτυακής παρουσίας μας στο Ιντερνετ: από ένα απλό κλικ για να δηλώσουμε ότι επικροτούμε κάτι μέσω του like στο facebook ή του RΤ στο Twitter έως ένα κείμενο που θα ανεβάσουμε στο προσωπικό μας blog, μια φωτογραφία στο Instagram, το προφίλ του σπιτιού που υπενοικιάζουμε μέσω airbnb. Αρκεί να φανταστούμε τι θα συνέβαινε αν για ένα 24ωρο κατεβάζαμε όλοι τα χέρια μας από τα πληκτρολόγια εν είδει απεργίας… Θα κατέρρεε το σύστημα ή όχι;Η Google ή το facebook από την καθημερινή μας δραστηριότητα «βγάζει» χρήματα, «από τη διαφήμιση που στηρίζεται στα προφίλ μας, από τα οποία εξάγονται συμπεράσματα για τις κοινωνικές και πολιτικές μας προτιμήσεις». Εξ ου και εμφανίζονται μπροστά μας διαφημίσεις «κομμένες και ραμμένες» στα γούστα μας. «Είναι σαφές, λοιπόν, ότι η ύπαρξη, η λειτουργία και η βιωσιμότητα όλων αυτών των ιστοσελίδων στηρίζεται στη δική μας δραστηριότητα, εμείς δίνουμε τροφή στους αλγορίθμους», υπογραμμίζει ο Ιταλός κοινωνιολόγος. «Και οτιδήποτε παράγει αξία αποτελεί μορφή εργασίας».Ο ίδιος παρομοιάζει την εργασία αυτήν με τις εργατοώρες μιας μητέρας και νοικοκυράς που τα καθήκοντά της αντιστοιχούν σε μια μορφή αδήλωτης εργασίας προς όφελος της οικογένειάς της, που συνήθως υπερβαίνουν αυτά μιας οριοθετημένης εργασίας οκταώρου.Επομένως, στο σύγχρονο ψηφιοποιημένο εργασιακό περιβάλλον εργαζόμαστε επτά μέρες την εβδομάδα, τα δεδομένα μας «αναπαράγονται» ακόμα και όταν κοιμόμαστε ή κάνουμε τζόκιγκ, ενώ βέβαια συνεχίζουμε την εν λόγω άτυπη εργασία μας ακόμα και στις διακοπές – ίσως, μάλιστα, οι ένθερμοι χρήστες των κοινωνικών δικτύων ως αδειούχοι «χτυπούν» περισσότερες υπερωρίες!«Η ψηφιοποιημένη εργασία συνεπάγεται κατ’ ουσίαν μιαν αδιάκοπη προέκταση του πεδίου εργασίας στον χωροχρόνο», παρατηρεί ο Casilli. H εργασία λαμβάνει χώρα εκτός των παραδοσιακά ορισμένων χώρων εργασίας: μπορούμε να γράφουμε από το κρεβάτι ή την παραλία, χωρίς αυτό να μειώνει την αξία της δουλειάς μας – τα κέρδη, δηλαδή, που μπορεί αυτή να αποφέρει στις εταιρείες-κολοσσούς του διαδικτύου. «Οι ίδιες οι εταιρείες ασχολούνται ενδελεχώς με τη δραστηριότητά μας, την οποία αναλύουν συνεχώς, προσδίδοντάς της συνεπώς συγκεκριμένη εμπορική αξία». Αυτό αποτελεί, άλλωστε, και ένα βασικό αντεπιχείρημα έναντι όσων ισχυρίζονται ότι η δραστηριότητα στο Ιντερνετ δεν αποτελεί δουλειά, αλλά διασκέδαση του χρήστη.Η Amazon, που διαθέτει το σύστημα Mechanikal Turk, έχει ξεκινήσει να πληρώνει τους χρήστες έναντι cents για ορισμένα τακτικά καθήκοντα, όπως συμπλήρωση ερωτηματολογίων, οργάνωση των playlists κ.λπ.«Βέβαια, αυτή την τακτική την καθιέρωσε όχι από διάθεση ανταμοιβής των χρηστών, αλλά στοχεύοντας στην ταχύτερη επέκταση της ιστοσελίδας», επισημαίνει ο Casilli.Μεταξύ των χρηστών μπορούμε, σύμφωνα με τον Casilli, να διακρίνουμε δύο κατηγορίες: τους συνειδητούς, που με τη θέλησή τους «τρέφουν» το σύστημα με πληροφορίες, και εκείνους που το κάνουν ασυνείδητα.«Τα όρια μεταξύ των δύο κατηγοριών είναι δυσδιάκριτα. Ουσιαστικά όλοι μας έχουμε μοιραστεί δεδομένα, άλλοτε συνειδητά άλλοτε ασυνείδητα». Μια φωτογραφία των διακοπών που αυθόρμητα μοιραζόμαστε με τους «διαδικτυακούς» μας φίλους μπορεί να θεωρηθεί ως κίνηση «στρατευμένης» βούλησης. «Ας μην ξεχνάμε ότι το σύστημα αποθηκεύει τις γεωγραφικές συντεταγμένες όπου βρισκόμαστε τη στιγμή λήψης της φωτογραφίας, την ημερομηνία, τον τύπο της φωτογραφικής μηχανής, τη διεύθυνση του υπολογιστή μας κ.λπ.». Πόσο διαφορετική θα μπορούσε άραγε να είναι η συμπεριφορά μας αν το facebook, αντί να μας ρωτάει καθημερινά «τι σκεφτόμαστε», μας έθετε το ερώτημα αλλιώς: «Θέλετε να μοιραστείτε αυτό που σκέφτεστε με την παγκόσμια διαδικτυακή κοινότητα»;Κάπου εκεί επανέρχεται το ζήτημα της χρήσης των προσωπικών μας δεδομένων. «Ακόμα και αν είμαστε ανενεργοί ή διαγράψουμε, για παράδειγμα, τον λογαριασμό μας στο facebook, τα προσωπικά μας δεδομένα εξακολουθούν να υπάρχουν και να κυκλ

Source: Τα «ίχνη» μας αποδίδουν κέρδη… | Διαδίκτυο | Η ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ

Nouvelle enquête : médias, Internet et censure en Iran

Une enquête unique a été conduite sur un échantillon de 1022 citoyens iraniens par une équipe de chercheurs de l’Iran Media Program (Annenberg School of Communications de l’Université de Pennsylvanie) en collaboration avec Gallup. Le rapport final Finding a Way – How Iranians reach for news and information est disponible en ligne. Voilà quelques résultats saillants :

1) Les médias traditionnels (mélangés avec des liens forts “de proximité”) restent les sources d’information majoritaires : la télévision est le premier choix pour 96% des interviewés. La chaîne d’état IRIB demeure la plus regardée (62%), suivie par BBC Persian et Voice of America (accessibles par satellite). La presse suit, mais avec un écart important (45%). Peux après, l’information directe par les pairs, les amis, les voisins, les membres de la famille (38%). Avec ces derniers, on peut supposer que certains échanges se réalisent en ligne – par mail, chat ou sur des médias sociaux (mais ce résultat est mitigé, v. point 2). D’autant plus que la recherche d’information dans des lieux publics (transports, commerces, lieux de culte, etc.) n’est plus vraiment d’actualité à cause du climat politique actuel.


Censorship and social media: some background information

[Update July 27, 2012: so far, our study has been featured in a number of media outlets in UK, India, Algeria, US, Oman, Indonesia… These are just the ones we know of: The Daily Mail, Yahoo Lifestyle, CNN, Technorati, The Times of India, GigaOM, Buzzfeed, National Affairs, Sify News,, Science Daily, Zee News TV India, Oman Tribune, The Free Library, L’atelier, Sciencenewsline, Le Soir d’Algérie, Tempo Indonesia. We’re particularly impressed by this response, and would like to thank the researchers, journalists and activists who’ve been spreading the news.]

Hello everyone,

You have probably reached this page after reading in the international press about our study “Social Media Censorship in Times of Political Unrest – A Social Simulation Experiment with the UK Riots” (published in the journal Bulletin of Sociological Methodology, vol. 115, n. 1). This post will provide some background information.

Read the study

First of all, if you are interested in reading the paper, you can purchase the article from SAGE website. Anyhow, here’s a preprint version you can download for free. Just saying.

About the authors

If you are looking for the authors’ bios:

 Antonio A. Casilli, is an associate professor of Digital Humanities at Telecom ParisTech and a researcher in sociology at the Edgar Morin Centre (EHESS), Paris, France. He is the author of the social media theory book Les liaisons numériques [Digital Relationships], published by the Editions du Seuil. He blogs at, tweets as @bodyspacesoc, and is a regular commentator for Radio France Culture. You can contact him here.

 Paola Tubaro, is a senior lecturer in Economic Sociology at the Business School of the University of Greenwich, London, UK, and associate researcher at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CNRS) Paris, France. Economic sociologist with interest in social networks and their impact on markets, organisations, consumer choice and health, her research also includes work in the philosophy and methodology of economics and social science. Her blog is here, plus you can contact her here.

The story, so far

In the wake of the August 2011 UK uprisings, Casilli and Tubaro built a rapid response study. Using computer simulation, the investigators showed that any move by the government to censor social media was likely to result in more civil unrest, higher levels of violence, and shorter periods of social peace. Released as a joint post on their websites and subsequently available as a working paper on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), the study was widely shared online and in the press.

Such an enthusiastic response prompted them to continue their research. Presently, they are launching follow-ups and new developments, both empirical and theoretical, in other European and MENA countries. They are members of the scientific committee of Just-In-Time Sociology (JITSO), an EPFL Geneva-based program gathering international researchers that try “to understand social phenomena as they unfold”.

TEDx talk, simulations and other stuff

If you want to watch a video presentation of the study, here’s Antonio Casilli’s TEDx talk (in French, with English subtitles), “Studying censorship via social simulation”, TEDx Paris Universités, May 19, 2012.

If you want to know more about our ongoing research, Internet Censorship and Civil Unrest (ICCU), here’s the project’s wiki.

If you want to download the computer simulation, here you’ll find a detailed technical description of the model. The model file (Netlogo and Java applet versions) is available here . You should: 1) unzip and save all three files in the same directory; 2) either open the .nlogo file from your computer in Netlogo, or open the .html file in your browser).


La simulation sociale pour combattre la censure : texte de ma conférence à TEDxParisUniversités

[UPDATE 05.06.2102: La vidéo de mon talk est désormais en ligne sur le site Web des conférences TED. Enjoy & share !]

Le samedi 19 mai j’ai été parmi les heureux conférenciers de l’édition 2012 de TEDxParisUniversités. A cette occasion, j’ai pu présenter au public français les résultats du projet ICCU (Internet Censorship and Civil Unrest) que je mène avec Paola Tubaro, enseignante-chercheuse à l’Université de Greenwich, Londres. L’accueil a été plus que chaleureux : la tweeterie m’a porté en triomphe, j’ai reçu les accolades des organisateurs et je me suis imbibé de l’enthousiasme d’étudiants et de militants de tout bord. J’exagère, mais pas tant que ça (suffit de lire le compte-rendu Storify concocté par Gayané Adourian ;). Voici donc le texte et les slides de mon intervention, en attendant la vidéo.

Aujourd’hui je vais vous parler des effets négatifs de la censure des médias sociaux, en passant par le cas des émeutes britanniques de 2011.

La censure est extrêmement difficile à étudier du point de vue des sciences sociales. Dans la mesure où elle est une interruption de flux d’information, les données relatives à ses conséquences et à son efficacité prétendue sont souvent inaccessibles aux chercheurs. C’est pourquoi nous devons nous appuyer sur une méthode innovante : la simulation sociale. (more…)

Et in Athenis ego: update on ongoing research on the body + riots

I know I should be in Lyon for the www12 conference with all the Internet big shots, but instead I’m taking a plane and heading to Greece. The opportunity came via an invitation to deliver a speech at the New Sensorium, an international symposium that will take place on April 20-21 at the BIOS, in Athens. If you are around, you should definitely attend! The conference deals with some of my main research foci (digital technologies, media and the body) and it is the outcome of a collaboration between the Department of Communication, Media and Culture of Panteion University and the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto (I was their guest a few months ago).

The New Sensorium symposium – BIOS, Athens (20-21 April 2012)

Just so you know my speech carries the somewhat cryptic title The Virus and the Avatar. Ways of socializing the sensible in computer culture – and if you don’t have a clue of what it’s about, here are two texts in Greek and in English that might be of help.

But this Athens trip will also be the chance to do more than a bit of field research for our ongoing ICCU (Internet Censorship and Civil Unrest) project. You might remember the project was kickstarted by this blog post about last year’s UK riots.

Our research received a lot of attention and eventually became a working paper, then an article coming up in the Bulletin of Sociological Methodology and started a number of prospective spin-offs in other nations. The Athens one is based on the idea of studying media and internet use during the Greek 2010-12 protests (and the way they are linked with the 2008 riots). Won’t go into details because I don’t want to spoil the party. But, if I manage to grasp a little wifi, I might be blogging a postcard or two from my Athenian fieldwork.

Antidatamining, or the art of killing financial markets a little every day

All throughout the month of February 2012 the Net artist collective RYBN is in residence at the Gaîté Lyrique, one of the hotbeds of the emerging art & technology scene in Paris. If you are in the French capital, I highly recommend paying them a visit.

I became acquainted with RYBN last year, when I met some of its members at a conference at the French National Library where I was delivering the closing speech, while they had presented their most recent project, Antidatamining VIII. ADMVIII (for short) is a trading bot, i.e. an artificial intelligence making real investments on real stock exchanges, collecting data and impacting financial markets worldwide. The bot monitors and maps data flows to create real-time digital visualizations such as charts, soundscapes, and timelines. It has an online page (where you can see how well it is doing, its net liquidity, the value of its shares, etc.) and a Twitter account providing details about ongoing orders.

Source: Antidataminig – Offshoring map visualization

ADMVIII is not your run-of-the-mill social commentary about market greed and pervasive financial panic in modern life. The goal of the project is to detect economic imbalances and discrepancies introduced by robot trading. As the bot actually executes buy and sell orders online, it represents a détournement of automatic trading technologies. As such it is intended to highlight their social consequences – and their potential disasters.


Assange, corporate conspiracies, and Wikileaks ultimate contradictions

Monday, October 24th, 2011. While facing a crowd of journalists and activists gathered at London’s Frontline Club for a momentous Wikileaks press conference, Julian Assange looks nervous. Today he has to deal with the inner contradictions of his political project. No, I’m not talking about the legal consequences of his extradition case. Nor about the ongoing fratricidal struggle with his former associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Nor about the very polarized reactions to the whole Cablegate undertaking by the global audiences. I’m talking about this…

Yes, Julian Assange has many reasons to be nervous. After the financial blockade, the leak has been reduced to a tickle. “A handful of US finance companies have successfully blocked 95% of worldwide support for WikiLeaks”. Is there, as he implies, a conspiracy against Wikileaks? That would be ironic, as the very implementation of Wikileaks was supposed to single-handedly put an end to conspiracies (according to this seminal 2006 paper, penned by Assange himself). Well, not about as ironic as this: apparently the only way for Wikileaks to counter Bank of America and Paypal is to become as profitable as they are. Open up to “more wealthy donors”. Provide the general public with projections about donations (and, supposedly, tax deductibility). What’s next? Selling shares to new investors via an IPO? (more…)

'Blame it on Black Culture': Race, Ethnicity, and Bogus Explanations of UK Riots

by Antonio A. Casilli and Paola Tubaro

During the last week several voices of the international blogosphere have been discussing our study on the impact of social media censorship during the August 2011 UK Riots. As you know if you have been reading our blogs, our work was based on computational methods and aimed at showing possible scenarios of civil violence. We were adamant about the fact that our intention is to provide policy-making tools and a theoretical framework, while data collection about the riots and their possible social determinants is pending.

The hunger for data produces spurious correlations

A few of our readers have been particularly concerned with the fact that, for the time being, evidence is lacking. A particularly virulent one dismissed, in the comments section of a US blog reviewing our research, our results as unsubstantiated “opinions cloaked in technology”. In the current climate of ideological polarization, such attacks are to be considered – albeit epistemologically enticing – politically motivated. As is some of the “swift evidence” the Internet is regurgitating these days.

Exhibit A: the HumStats Blog, sprung from nothing on August 15th 2011, with only one post suggestively titled ‘2011 England Riots: Statistics of Ethnicity’: a lengthy statistical tirade highlighting a “strong correlation” between the occurrence of riots and black population (unemployed black population, to be precise) while discarding other socio-economic status indicators as not significant. (The blogger’s profile ‘HumStats’ is frugal to say the least. All we know is that this person is somehow statistics-savvy, but we have no indication as to the blogger’s gender or ethnic background).

Now, this kind of exercises in descriptive statistics is simple to grasp for everyone. Just having a look at summaries such as this one, taken from the blog post in question, an inexperienced reader might be drawn to think that the correlation is there, and – as in many a mind correlation implies causation – bang!… the Black and Afro-Caribbean population of England is automatically to blame for the recent wave of civil violence. What’s more, class conflict is nothing and, apparently, matters of social justice count for peanuts.