Examining the Role of Private Social Media Companies and the Tragedy of the Digital Commons

August 22, 2016 | Kevin Lynn

PFIR is having some trouble in the social media sphere these days. But it is not because it is lacking a social media strategy, or has not made meaningful contacts and connections with people across several platforms to include Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. It’s trouble stems from the fact that its message on immigration runs counter to that of the establishment.

Not long ago, PFIR’s Twitter account was frozen while thousands of followers were lost, purportedly to allow Twitter the chance to “investigate” our views on immigration. Earlier this year, without any warning or opportunity to dispute or file a complaint, PFIR’s Facebook account was shut down and contact with over 5,000 subscribers to the page were lost!

And it wasn’t just PFIR. In July, Wikileaks revealed that Facebook had engaged in the suppression of organizations whose views they did not agree with. In many cases, stories were either suppressed by tweaking how stories were ranked for inclusion in the “Trending” corner, or simply blacklisted altogether.

These actions have us pondering the influence of private social media companies in and what can arguably be considered a digital “COMMONS”, a place where citizens should not only have the ability, but the right to express their views unfettered by a BIG BROTHER.

So what defines a commons? As defined by the dictionary, the commons is land or a resource that belongs to or affects the whole of a community.

A traditional commons as in merry old England, was land that was not privately owned but held “in common” by the people for everyone’s use. Often, there were rules in the use of the commons that all were required to adhere to. These rules prevented individuals from taking unfair advantage and ensured the continuation of the commons. Interestingly, “A person who had a right in, or over, common land jointly with another or others was called a commoner.” The land of the common was usually carved out of some large manor. At the time, farming was a small time operation and the average farmer simply lacked the holdings to adequately graze his livestock. So the commons allowed local farmers to raise livestock where otherwise would not have been able to do so.

Today’s social media companies operate for all intensive purposes as a “commons.” Moreover, they are often times referred to wistfully by users as a commons. Unfortunately for us users, these companies are in fact private business concerns in which users have either no or limited rights and are subject to a lengthy user agreement.

So what happens when private corporations collude with government (the establishment) to ensure that ideas that run counter to the party line begin to take root in social media circles? Well, we have seen what happens. The planters and tillers of those thoughts and ideas are rooted out and cast away.

We believe this is not only unfair, but it poses a threat to democracy. It means those that have the power to, can control the conversation on any topic by simply wiping out dissenting voices.

PFIR is committed to immigration reform that benefits the citizens of the United States. We will not be deterred. The actions of Facebook and Twitter will not deter us. We believe in the justness of our cause and will continue to fight for worker rights, the environment and our ideals. If we can do that on existing social media platforms, great! If not we will find a way to effectively communicate our message. . .

 

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