What Good Is ‘Community’ When Someone Else Makes All the Rules?
We imagine community as a co-created project in which everything can be negotiated, in which everyone has a stake, in which democracy can flourish. The digital platforms present rich, human-built spaces where we can gather, have a voice and feel supported. But their promise of community masks a whole other layer of control — an organizing, siphoning, coercive force with its own private purposes. This is what has been sinking in, for more of us, over the past months, as attention turns toward these platforms and sentiment turns against them.
When you’re on Facebook, Facebook is the laws of nature, the force that creates its own ecosystem and determines its workings. It gets to send floods, bring droughts, strike down users and strip-mine their information, decide which community is targeted with what. It can build tools to censor the content a nation like China might wish to censor, and systems that suppress — or fail to suppress — content stoking ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. These powers aren’t jointly held; they’re entirely private. They eat away at the very thing that makes community worthwhile, until they’ve created something that’s not a community at all, but a simulation of one, a game with one winner and a community of losers.