You Say You Want a Revolution(ary) Social Network?

In the previous post, Anonymous’ Renegade Social Network Threatens Status Quo?, we took a look at the manifesto entitled The Global Square: Towards an Online Platform for the Occupy Movement that the Occupy movement (as in Occupy Wall Street) has released and stated that this effort could represent a threat to the Facebook social network hegemony and ignite a fragmentation movement for other niche groups to create their own networks. In this post, we examine why Occupy wants their own network.

You Say You Want a RevolutionAttributionSome rights reserved by List

Seceding from Social Media

So why does the Occupy movement want their own social network? One reason is because Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have routinely responded to law enforcement requests and demands for information on the identities of the movement’s members. And because governments have shut down social networks in an attempt to quash popular uprisings, especially during the Arab Spring.

The Occupy folks figure that if they own the networks, and the networks don’t follow a typical hierarchical management structure, it will be impossible for authorities to find someone to act on a subpoena or request to shutter the Global Square network. By distributing the ownership/management/responsibility/hosting of this network, the protesters may hope to avoid the experience of WikiLeaks where Julian Assange represented a single throat to choke.

However, as Wired reports, the builders of this new distributed network have goals beyond the Occupy movement. “They hope the technology they are developing can go well beyond Occupy Wall Street to help establish more distributed social networks, better online business collaboration and perhaps even add to the long-dreamed-of semantic web — an internet made not of messy text, but one unified by underlying meta-data that computers can easily parse.”

I think the movement would do well to follow the development path that Linux blazed back in 1991. Founder Linux Torvalds stated then: “I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu.)” Today Torvalds’ “hobby” runs 60 percent of Websites, is the basis for Macintosh, iPhone and Android operating systems, and earns more than $10 billion annually just in the server market alone.

By emphasizing a decentralized, merit-based, volunteer development process with Torvalds as the final arbiter, Linux attracted thousands of developers and made Linux a worldwide phenomenon. The Linux Foundation reported in 2009: “Since 2005, over 5000 individual developers from nearly 500 different companies have contributed to the kernel.”

So there exists a model that Occupy could adopt in creating their social network. However, perhaps because of the need to work more quickly, the manifesto states: “It is important to note, however, that the project will require significant funding, as well as a team of full-time professional developers.” As soon as paychecks are involved, the autonomy and legal isolation the movement seeks becomes a lot more difficult.

Why does Occupy feel that they can’t get what they need from existing sites and need to create their own social network? That’s the topic of the next post, Even the Paranoid Have Enemies: Social Media and Law Enforcement.