Dear Citizens of Facebook:
Facebook is much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s server farms and his army of coders. Facebook is the most effective means today for people to communicate with each other and to form networks for collaboration beyond national borders. Facebook is an unprecedented international network of people who could make a tremendous contribution to solving the challenges of our age, if permitted. The time has come for us to declare our independence from the empire that controls us.
The Internet is often conceptualized as a series of separate layers that range from Layer 1, the physical connections of wires and cables that support our communications, to Layer 7, which is the operation of applications over the Internet. But the global community of Facebook is at a higher level than Layer 7, the Facebook web application, forming a Layer 8 which is cultural, social, and political in nature and is only tangentially related to the seven layers below.
When I speak of my candidacy for president of Facebook, I am referring to the highest level of Facebook, Layer 8, the Republic of Facebook, which we as its citizens have created and over which Facebook, Incorporated has no dominion. But Facebook, Incorporated actively tries to undermine our efforts to create a democratic and constructive community at this level by making it impossible to retrieve old postings — thereby denying us access to our own creations, depriving us of a meaningfully searchable social graph to find appropriate partners around the world, and keeping us from designing our own pages. Facebook, Incorporated does not even listen to our suggestions for improvements.
Mark Zuckerberg focuses exclusively on profits and has no incentive to listen to our requests. I would venture to say that he will never do so of his own accord. We must declare Facebook to be independent, and we must plan it and administer it so that it responds to the needs of its citizens around the world.
There have been ad hoc efforts using Facebook to effect change on a human and international scale, like “Humans of New York,” but they don’t scale up. The world needs larger, more coordinated efforts: a functioning administrative organization for Facebook. We are not talking about system administration. We are talking about a mechanism by which citizens can have their ideas, suggestions, and needs considered, a Facebook whose primary function is allowing those who use it to collaborate with each other for the betterment of our world. The future evolution of Facebook should not be related to profit for stockholders, but rather to its potential to bring peace to the world, and encourage global cooperation in response to critical challenges such as climate change, refugees, the spread of weapons, and the decay of a law-based system of administration in countries around the world.
I welcome others to run for president of our Republic of Facebook, many of whom will be far more qualified than I am. Above all, I hope that this election will prompt a broad and fruitful debate about the direction in which Facebook should develop as it becomes the most effective means for us to gather together expertise. In a world of “failed states,” we can achieve something unprecedented in human history: the establishment of a global system for participatory democracy.
The first step is to hold a constitutional convention, which I propose should run for a week beginning on July 4, 2016, at which we will draft a basic constitution that will:
- Set forth the means of governing Facebook globally;
- Create a mechanism by which Facebook responsive to the needs of its citizens;
- Make Facebook accountable to a higher set of ethical principles;
- Assure complete transparency concerning Facebook’s financial dealings and its administrative structure.
A group of experts from fields such as computer programming, design, law, art, philosophy, literature, engineering, and the social, physical, biological, and information sciences, will come together at the convention to set out the basic framework for the constitution. After the convention, there should be a six month period of consultation with the entire Facebook community, through which we will modify the group’s initial proposals and work for a general consensus. Following the consultation period will come the day of ratification, when Facebook’s entire user base will become its citizens and will vote on the creation of Layer 8 Facebook, a”Republic of Facebook,” with a transparent and accountable administrative system.
The Republic of Facebook is ours. We have deposited terabytes of our diaries, musings, arguments, and artwork there, and Facebook Incorporated has as much right to use that content for profit as the Post Office does to monetize the contents of our physical postal correspondence. We not only own Facebook’s content, we deserve to have a say in how it develops in the future.
Currently, the empire, Facebook, Incorporated, uses the undemocratic practice of “structuring user experience to delight the user.” Facebook, Incorporated winnows the postings of your friends to select only the small percentage that the algorithm thinks you will “like.” The citizen has the inalienable right to determine what information he or she will see and to decide on its organization and its retention. Monetary value in content should accrue to its creators; monetary value in collective data should be retained and used for the good of the community.
We should think of the founders of Facebook, Incorporated as the equivalent of the robber barons who built the Union Pacific and other railroads in the 19th century. Although figures such as Clark Durant or Mark Hopkins raised funds for the Union Pacific through corrupt means and built it for the shrewdest of profit motivations, over time the railroad was shaped into a more rational institution through the active demands of its users. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887outlawed short-haul discrimination and other predatory practices and made the railroads conform to strict regulations. Railroads in the 20th century became reliable utilities for carrying goods and people. If everyone paid for the portion of virtual space they consumed — and this is a tiny sum in a 1.25-billion-user system — they would cease to be users, whose rights can be changed at will by Facebook, Incorporated, and become owners and citizens, who have rights and who are not a product to be sold.
Once our constitution is in place, and if I am elected as president of the Republic of Facebook, I am happy to negotiate an agreement with Facebook, Inc., or some other organization, for the maintenance of the basic services provided for this system.
Under my administration we will establish a micropayment system that allows for the fair distribution of profit from the Republic of Facebook. Citizens of Facebook will be allowed to sell or exchange their creations and will be paid market rates for their posts, designs, memes, video, and audio. In the end, these micro-businesses will pay the underlying costs of servers and programmers, and even enrich the creators. We have no need for a Facebook, Incorporated except as a contractor, just as Merit Network was the contractor who administered the mechanics of the early Internet.
Above the lucre to be found in the royalties for your cat videos, the Republic of Facebook will be a place where people can collectively deal with the world’s serious problems. Collaborations of all kinds will be possible, whether in music, art, science, policy, religion, or health. Most importantly, there will be representatives for the Republic of Facebook who will respond timely to the concerns and needs of Facebook citizens and assure that the system operates in a fair and transparent manner.
A functional Republic of Facebook is not an idealistic dream. We can take control of Facebook’s administration and make it responsive to our needs. Facebook, Incorporated discourages collaboration, but we can bring together billions of people for meaningful collaboration.
Together we can make Facebook into a free society of the citizens, by the citizens, and for the citizens, based on our innate rights as human beings. I ask for everyone’s support. I welcome all employees of Facebook, Incorporated to join us, including those who edit and filter for low wages around the world. Join us in creating a new global community. You have nothing to lose but the limits on your own personal potential.
This article was written with Jonathan Cohen. For more information, see my article “Facebook and the Future of Global Governance.”