June 21, 2016
Adhocracy vs. Facebook
In most of our Adhocracy-Projects, we collaborate with partner organizations. Often, we aim to involve their members or supporters in idea collection, opinion formation or even in binding decision-making. Every now and then they ask us why a simple Facebook group or page wouldn’t do the job instead. After all, most organizations already use Facebook for internal or external communication and have made great experiences with it (we are no exception here). Facebook offers an enormous reach and it is obvious to question why users should use Adhocracy when they already have a Facebook account and know how to orientate very well within the social network where they may spend several hours a day.
We have tried to answer this question by listing the pros and cons of both Facebook and Adhocracy for the implementation of democratic participation, with regard to matters of usability, transparency and privacy.
Adhocracy is a non-profit, free software which helps organizations implement democratic participation processes in an easy, accessible way. The Liquid Democracy Association develops Adhocracy in the context of use cases in which digitally mediated, political participation is being tested according to specific organizational requirements.
Adhocracy instances are free from advertisement and thus do not involve any kind of evaluation of user information for profiling, tracking or advertising. Neither w nor our partner organizations aim to earn profit with the provided user information.
Facebook is an incorporated company running a proprietary software, earning profit based on the data provided by its users. All (political and non-political) interactions and user-generated content on the social network are saved by Facebook and can or will be used for commercial (and potentially other) purposes. Facebook can potentially and legally determine which political views should be promoted and which should be shut off. This is problematic as it is a corporation which is basically free from public checks and balances. Facebook therefore has the power to shape opinions which circulate in its immense online communities. Instead of admitting to this risk of biased content and subjectivity, the company’s officials have often pointed to its algorithmically driven technology which is supposedly ‚neutral’ (see further links).
Adhocracy is a software with a specialized purpose: the enhancement of political participation. It offers manifold possibilities and features to create and join participation processes. In order to make political participation accessible for more people, Adhocracy aims to achieve good usability and comprehension.
Project initiators can choose the tool or a combination of tools, which suits their participation method best. For example, different phases can be defined for a participation process. Users can be given administration rights to autonomous community management. In addition, different modes of participation can be realized in various phases, such as idea collection, urban space planning or public consultation.
Facebook has good usability in general and a very wide reach as the world’s largest social network. It is easy to set up a group, invite the people you’d like to reach and discuss a certain matter of interest. Nevertheless, Facebook is missing a specialized tool for political participation and does not provide enough features that would enhance democratic participation.
For instance, Facebook’s ‚Like‘ button only allows for affirmation or, more recently and not on the discussion-level, the expression of ‚emotions‘ via five different emoticons. It is thus missing the option of countable (and non-emotional) rejection or denial, which is crucial in democratic decision-making.
Adhocracy is a free and open-source software, and always will be thanks to its radical copy left license AGPLv3. This license stipulates that all contributions made to the software have to be published under the same free license. So, everybody benefits from contributions to Adhocracy’s code and every organization can use it. Contributions to Adhocracy’s code are public on GitHub.
Facebook is running on a proprietary software. There is no way for the public to check what is done with personal user data, nor are the algorithms used to filter content created by the users.
When it comes to the requirement of inclusion of individuals and the transparency regarding data use, Facebook faces a dilemma. In order to use Facebook for political participation, individuals are required to create an account, using their real identity. Many people are absent from the social network because of their personal privacy and/or transparency concerns. This relatively large group is thus excluded from political participation on Facebook.
Adhocracy has to strictly oblige to German and European data security laws and therefore secures privacy. Adhocracy collects, processes and uses as little personal data as possible. Furthermore, it protects personal data by rendering it anonymous as far as possible (according the the German Federal Data Protection Act, Section 3a Data Reduction and Data Economy). In order to register, users can freely choose between their real name or a pseudonym.
Digitally mediated, democratic participation involves some important requirements for the technology in use. These include not only the features but as well aspects of transparency and privacy.
We do not want to demonize commercial social media like Facebook. Many millions of people use them every day to connect with their friends, acquaintances and organizations. Facebook is very useful to reach out to large numbers of people and to communicate with them. But we are convinced that the open-source form of government – democracy – is best implemented with an open-source technology. This technology news to fulfill the special requirements for open, democratic participation. Therefore, we work daily to improve Adhocracy.
Oliver Wolff on politik-digital.de (in German) – "Algorithmen: Denn sie wissen schon, was du tun wirst"
Will Uremus on slate.com – "Of Course Facebook is Biased"
René Neumann on politik-digital.de (in German) – "Facebook: Selektive politische Meinungsbildung"