On taking part in the Facebook Resistance Workshop / #tm11

(Continued reporting from Transmediale11 in Berlin)

Some of the best parts of the Transmediale conference are the workshops, where curious  people group together to learn new skills, share knowledge and, sometimes, even build things. On Friday I took part in a fun and quite compelling session titled ‘Facebook Resistance Workshop‘, held by Tobias Leingruber (affiliated with FAT Labs), an artist and free communication designer that uses viral media, popular culture, amateur aesthetics, client-side browser software and – perhaps most significantly, humor – in his work.
He has created a browser extension for Facebook that change Facebook’s otherwise very firm laws by adding new features – for instance a ‘Dislike’-button as well as making it possible to create custom backgrounds.

The idea of the workshop was not so much to get more than brief insight into how to make these simple scripts, but rather to jointly brainstorm over what Facebook could be like (and should be like), if users had a say. Which they really don’t: While early online networks like Geocities encouraged it’s users to entirely modify their online presence, Facebook and other web 2.0-services have a firm framework that steers this “user generated content” into a commercially valuable structure built on advertising. Facebook has finalised this “evolution” by allowing the user to do nothing else but feeding information into the system that via ad revenue gives FB it’s estimated value of 33 Billion US$.

As it is commonly known, Facebook is heavily critized for this, and the problem is further emphasized by the fact that Facebook has almost entirely taken over the entire social web in what seems more and more like a monopoly. With a design that follows Mark Zuckerberg’s ideals. As Harward law professor Lawrence Lessig says, “the code is law. The architectures of cyberspace are as important as the law in defining and defeating the liberties of the Net.”

These concerns are very much in key with what Mark Surman talked about in his TM keynote, as mentioned earlier in this blog, namely the extreme importance of keeping the web and communication channels open, in order to let people interact socially in an unprohibited, unmonitored and non-exploitive way.

The group I was in talked about creating a hack that would make fake advertisements that would visualize how much money Facebook actually earns when you feed personal data into your profile. Here you can see a mock-up of what that could look like:

Saturday Tobias Leingruber will present the experimental and artistic Facebook hack concepts from the workshop to festival visitors before turning these concepts into a real software that users worldwide can download and share. Learn about these and all the other browser hacks on his site, artzilla.org or on the FB browser hack development site.