Activistic Salon in Amsterdam: Goodbye Facebook, hello Diaspora*

Last week, November 3rd, an activistic salon was held at the underground Vondelbunker in Amsterdam, organized by squatting collective Schijnheilig. The activistic salon is a weekly event that brings people together around various themes to present and discuss critical perspectives, issues and actions. About twenty people gathered to focus on the downfall of centralized social media and the rise of decentralized systems. More specifically, we engaged in a lively discussion about Facebook’s issues and the potential of Diaspora.

“Facebook is not a neutral medium. Neutral as in the air we use to convey this message”

There was a general introduction to Facebook’s issues: harming online privacy, taking irrational censorship measures, problematizing data ownership and control. Moreover, the main concern was that Facebook should not be regarded as a ‘free’ service at all, since the trade-off for using the social network website actually is massive. Facebook would namely have enabled, promoted and standardized ‘spying for free’: always having free access to your data.

How did Diaspora came to be? That it is a grassroots open-source software project, crowdfunded through Kickstarter and initiated by four students from New York is most likely clear by now to anyone reading this. However, some may not recall a particular mention-worthy presentation by Eben Moglen, professor of law and legal history at Columbia University and Founding Director at the Software Freedom Law Center, that inspired the creators of Diaspora in the first place: ‘Freedom in the cloud’, 02-02-2010 at NYU.


“The human race has susceptibility to harm but Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record: he has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age. Because he harnessed Friday night. That is, everybody needs to get laid and he turned it into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality and he has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal. Namely, “I will give you free web hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time”.” (Full transcript here)

Furthermore, light was shed on the decentralized/distributed networking architecture of Diaspora. Decentralization means that instead of all your data stored on a central server belonging to a corporation that threats your data like their own, you set up your own decentralized servers to store your data and communicate with others, without ‘the middle man’ exploiting your information and communication. Together these nodes form a distributed social network.

If this still is unclear, you might find ‘What is a distributed social network’ useful.

The people of Greenhost invited everyone to their Diaspora pod which runs on sustainable energy. They made clear that when you don’t  run your own Diaspora pod, and join an existing one instead it is still very much a matter of trust, just like trusting your Internet Service Provider.

Diaspora was deemed a promising and inspiring alternative that is still in its early development stage (The beta is to be launched soon). Though there were a few in the audience who questioned Diaspora’s interface and me-centrism. It would still be ‘too similar to Facebook’ and judging from the adopted Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights it would be all about the individual users and much less about collective efforts. However, CFP’s Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights was created exactly in response to the issues and concerns that arose out of Facebook -over time- and it is only with the best intentions that Diaspora adopts the Bill: giving social media users proper control over their information(flows). Needless to say, the development of Diaspora itself is a great collective effort.

N-1 was briefly mentioned to explain that decentralized alternative social networking sites/techniques can be very different from one another. Indeed, it is interesting to examine how these alternatives will continue to unfold, develop and differ.

The Activistic Salon was a great opportunity to discuss Facebook’s issues and the potential of decentralized alternatives. Hopefully we will see many more of these initiatives. For it is the right time to ask yourself and others: How aware are you about the social media issues at play..and how can you do something about it? Alternatives in social media. What difference do they make?