Feed my Feed: Radical publishing in Facebook Groups

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Robert M. Ochshorn, The App and the Territory (2014)

These days, Facebook is so widely used that opting out constitutes an act of defiance of the norm. The refusal to participate can be made for personal reasons, but there is a sizeable group who do so as a protest of the corporate control over interpersonal communication. In a 2014 blog post, Laura Portwood-Stacer used the metaphor of "breaking up with Facebook" to describe:

active refusal as a tactical response to the perceived harms engendered by a capitalist system in which media corporations have disproportionate power over their platforms' users, who, it may be said, provide unpaid labor for corporations whenever they log on.

The burdens placed on Facebook's users are certainly significant; they include not only cognitive labor, but also online harassment, dataveillence, and the performance of the profile–which is pulled in multiple directions, at the same time increasingly sexualized (pulled into online dating sites like Tinder) and entrepreneurialized (pulled into sites like Airbnb), even while the display of the body within the profile is regulated in punitive, sexist fashion.

One might question whether opting out constitutes a successful removal from the object of concern, or rather, just another performative act amid the impossibility of ever getting off the grid. In this piece, I want to use the example of the Facebook Group to argue that opting out also involves a disavowal of crucial forms of vernacular culture and solidarity. Through collective, thematic riffing, Facebook Groups offer a crucial form of contemporary social and political experience.

Facebook Groups have a low barrier to entry–for example, one doesn't need to understand domain registration or hosting to build a large network. Domain registrar GoDaddy claims 51 million domain names, but there were some 620 million Facebook Groups as of 2010. More than a third of Facebook's active users participate in Groups; some Groups are public, while others require new members to be approved by an admin. Once in, Groups facilitate communication among members via messages and posts, which may also be moderated. Groups are often established around particular topics, which are can be wonderfully specific: see, for example,"Medical Fashion Quarterly" and "Simpsons Shitposting," and a trove of Groups compiling aesthetic categories including the internet-of-things inspired, "HOMECARE AESTHETICS: Environment and Object, offspring of "CORPORATE AESTHETICS: Environment and Object," that bring iconic anomalies and internet garbage to the kitchen table of your feed so you don't have to waste time in Google image search.

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