Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Parisians protest against Facebook - On the Streets...

Now, I know the recent Facebook revamp hasn't gone down all that well amongst many of its users, but some people really are peeved. Like this group of Parisians who took to the streets to protest about the changes:

My French isn't too good, so I haven't the foggiest what they're chanting, but I know enough to be able to tell the banner says "Against the new version of Facebook" (Wow, aren't I clever?!). Looking at some of the pictures on TechCrunch it all looks a bit like a stunt of some kind, though equally, knowing the French delectation for taking to the streets at the drop of a hat, it could also be a genuine protest.

Which raises an interesting question - how do you protest against something that exists pretty much entirely in the virtual realm?

The obvious answer would be to protest online, as Facebook are well aware from the backlash to their terms of service debacle not too long ago. But does it being an online dispute mean it can't spill over into the 'real' world?

And then I got thinking about a presentation from my boss man Tom Abbott this afternoon, in which he quoted William Gibson:

"One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the future, that will become literally impossible."
How will this blurring of the virtual and real worlds affect protest and even direct action in the future?

You can understandably say that the changes to Facebook's look and feel won't affect people much in real life, which makes the whole French protest, if indeed it was genuine, look a little silly. However, their Terms of Service cock-up can very much be considered a kind of blurring of the virtual and real worlds, in so far as Facebook, had they got away with it, would have owned what amounts to a record of people's private, real lives, even when they left the service. Had Facebook not backed down (inconceivable really given the furore but let's consider this hypothetically), would this have led to some people taking to the streets?

On the flip side, we already see protest about real world issues taking to the virtual world, such as the New Zealand blackout protests in February, but will we maybe see the likes of Greenpeace and Plane Stupid taking on the corporations and governments through direct cyber-action? Obviously, the digital world is already a well-used tool for mobilising, informing and organising protests and campaigns, though how long until we see climate campaigners shutting down E.On's website as well as its coal fired power stations?

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