Now pushing 200 million members, Facebook is facing its second user revolt in as many months. This time millions of members have joined the revolt against its new interface. A month ago it was about (the still unresolved) terms-of-service issue. With rapid growth and strong user identification, Facebook executives seem to want to contain the revolts as best they can. However, as social movements go, this one involves a curious calculus: Facebook polled its members on the new interface. This in turn resulted in overwhelmingly negative feedback (with 94% polling against it). Nonetheless, this is a very contained revolt that ironically keeps Facebook in the headlines for free while deepening activity within Facebook and demonstrating its users' identification with the social networking application. All of this calls for a very nuanced analysis of organizing and digital social movements. Quoted in the New York Times, S. Sundar Shyam captures the Facebook executive's dilemma: “This is a technology that has inherently generated community, and it has gotten to the point where members of that community feel not only vested but empowered to challenge the company.”
In someways, this parallels the real world debate about free speech in malls (something especially important to consumer and workers rights advocates). After initially, expanding rights in favor of free speech, the US Supreme Court moved in the direction of private property, according to Dahlia Lithwick writing for Slate.com. However state law (especially in California and Massachusetts) has expanded the power of free speech advocates. From our perspective, the valuable lesson here is that rights are not set by law but involve the social struggles over these laws. For progressives concerned about the growth of Facebook and Google behemoths, the various user revolts should be seen as foundational struggles helping define our rights in a changing world.