Mark Zuckberg, sweaty at a dance party.

Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook

This post is long, so I’ve embedded some music throughout you can listen to while reading.

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We have been disgruntled about Facebook for a long time.

It seems like there are two reasons we’ve used it for this long. The first often rings as an exhausted regurgitation of Facebook’s current marketing campaign, that it connects us to our high school friends, people from camp, so on and so forth. Leaving Facebook, we’d be exiting a community.

The second is, simply, Events. You’ll rarely hear someone more exhausted by the internet than when you hear a music lover, musicians, and organizer say they’re only on Facebook for the events.

In neither of these cases is being happy with Facebook any part of the equation. Imagine if you heard a friend say, “I love Facebook.” You’d probably check their pupils and make sure they knew what day of the week it is.

Of course, Facebook just has to keep us unperturbed enough to stay on its platform so it can continue mining our data. Anyone who has used the platform for this long has continued to be begrudgingly on board with that.

Yet the past week’s leaks and exposés on Cambridge Analytica have underscored that Facebook is indiscriminate with how it doles that data out.

But now we’ve learned that Facebook would rather not know what happens with that data once it’s sold — including if that data is then peddled second hand, surprisingly — and will quickly turn around and tell users we agreed to give the data in the first place didn’t we?

It’s as much a pillar of contemporary American life as McDonald’s, Jordans, or Marvel movies, yet is widely considered a terrible product with strikingly limited upsides. Facebook doesn’t look good, doesn’t taste good, and isn’t even particularly entertaining. At least when you go to Target, you complete a necessary transaction and never have to talk to anybody. Facebook just smugly fucks us over.

Accountability may be anathema to our budding techno-libertarian elite (will anyone at Uber fall on the sword for the self-driving car that killed someone last week?), but it’s nauseating all the same to see a company with so much greedy power over our data shirk responsibility so, so, so flippantly.

Worse, when it comes time for the official public statement, the brass more or less shirks culpability with song and dance about how the company really tried our best, you guys, implying for the billionth time that it has little control over any ill use of the platform whatsoever, such as, say, its algorithms creating anti-semitic ad categories.

A few hours later, Zuckerberg went to the NY Times with hat in hand, saying he was really, deeply sorry. As Facebook watchdog Max Read put it, though:

If there is one promise Facebook delivers on, it’s organizing. The West Virginia teachers’ strike earlier this month really benefited from Facebook’s groups features. As ghastly and depressing as they are in the first place, GoFundMe pages for medical expenses quickly reach the people who care most via Facebook sharing.

And, of course, Facebook is an effective way to get people to find out about the show you booked, and therefore a necessary promotion tool if you had to rent equipment or guarantee fees to artists. A lot of people use Facebook, and therefore a lot of people will see events posted there.

But as anyone who has booked enough events using Facebook knows, it fucking sucks for promotion. If you post events with any sort of frequency, Facebook will cap the number of friends you can invite, and sometimes outright ban you from inviting people to events for a probationary period.

Yes, Facebook wants those people frequently throwing events to pay for promotional services, and Facebook is clearly imposing those invite limits for ransom.

But consider a recent report from Buzzfeed about how Eastern European propaganda agents can hack Facebook groups with massive membership counts to push disinformation at shocking scale, or how pro-gun trolls and far-right agitators use Facebook groups to orchestrate mobs for harassment campaigns.

This reeks. To state the facts plainly, Facebook creates fewer obstacles for orchestrating harassment campaigns than it does throwing relatively low-attendance shows and dance parties. If we want to extrapolate just a smidge, we could say Facebook is better structured for fostering far-right violence than it is for enabling community-based music scenes.

(Side note, there are more reasons why Facebook is terrible for events, but those this is not an article about how a trash product could be fixed.)

Consider, for a moment, a trope that’s been appearing in sci fi since the ’70s, some state or corporate apparatus neutralizes dissidents and countercultural types by giving them some space or some thing they can use to exhaust all of that revolutionary energy, leaving the oppressive status quo undisturbed.

We see it mentioned by Stanislaw Lem in The Futurological Congress, where he briefly mentions an architect designing a bunker inside of a city-as-a-sky-scraper where counterculture types can live separately than the rest, and in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly where former hippies and agitators get hooked on a drug that allows them to tune out completely.

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The idea was updated in an especially clever way by David Cronenberg in the ’90s, wherein Jude Law’s character in eXistenz gets to stage a successful coup against a corporate conspiracy pushing a dangerous VR game, only to realize the coup took place within the VR game.

It’s important that this trope developed in the ’70s, when the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s was crossfading into the the purest version of a neoliberal order that would remain unvarnished until the global financial crisis in 2008.

Now, I’m not saying that the underground music scene being left to fight for scraps in Facebook’s events section is exactly some pacifier. Far from it. Facebook events give us the opportunity, once again, to organize. And that’s not just for concerts and dance parties, but for teach-ins, community forums, political rallies, and volunteer efforts with grassroots social organizations.

But it is clear that there will always and forever be a space for us within the most insidious, totalizing structures. We will always get thrown just big enough of a bone to stick around. Facebook is not unlike the Lem’s skyscraper, or Dick’s Los Angeles, or Cronenberg’s eXistenz in that it effectively finds a way to keep a disgruntled counterculture within its walls.

Is this maneuver inherently anti-revolutionary as these examples imply? Probably not. Again, Facebook has some sort of revolutionary potential, for the fascist fringe and labor movement alike. Do we feel like we can never really escape? Well… yeah.

How does Facebook do it? By standing as the self-evident fact that it’s the only game in town. There isn’t a good alternative. If I quit, I won’t find out about all the shows I love going to. Worse, I won’t find out about the shows my friends are playing. Even worse, if I’m booking a show that’s two miles farther than where people are used to traveling for DIY shows, how am I even supposed to reach all the people that would travel and convince them to get there?

What comes to mind here is a foundational quote that Mark Fisher uses in Capitalist Realism, borrowed from Frederic Jameson, who himself borrowed it from some mysterious source, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” It rings so true it’s piercing.

Fisher uses it to frame his own idea of capitalist realism, that neoliberal capitalism very effectively defines what is and isn’t realistic in our sociopolitical landscape — say, privatizing parking meters that previously benefitted the municipality versus reigning in corporate carbon emissions — in turn justifying its own existence as some natural state of order where alternatives are unimaginable.

Let me suggest a twist for the situation at hand: “It’s easier to imagine the end of music than the end of Facebook.” It just isn’t realistic that we could get off Facebook and still find out about all the good parties that all our friends are going to!

We are always stuck with the extent reality that there just isn’t an alternative to Facebook for finding out about music happenings. I get it. Ever since I started going to DIY shows in 2008, Facebook is how I found out about events. It seems monolithic.

Except that it’s not, really. Truthfully, the way I really found out about the good events was by friends telling me to come with them to shows, or even just showing up at the Silent Barn in Queens on a Thursday and randomly getting my mind blown. Similarly, word of mouth still works 10 years later. For that matter, a good flyer goes a long way. Email lists for venues tell you literally everything happening at that venue.

Yeah, duh. I write that and I feel like I’m being some patronizing dick. Obviously people find out about shows through word of mouth, flyers, email lists, and whatever else. Yet we still act like we need Facebook.

Something really struck me when I was re-reading Capitalist Realism recently. It’s the bit about how capitalism continues to function because people are aware of exactly how terrible it is yet do nothing about it. We say we oppose it, but we just act in accordance with what it demands anyway.

That’s how we get Christopher Wylie — a dude you’d fully expect to see dancing in the fog at an illegal party — working alongside “Steve from America” at Cambridge Analytica.

The converse of this logic is what the Facebook corporation uses to excuse its appalling behavior. Facebook has historically — and is presently — made it clear that users agree to a terms of service and, on top of that, have access to a bevy of privacy options. We, as users, have agreed to those terms of service and just have been too lazy to toggle anything.

We internalize that. Yeah, Facebook uses data collection practices that are not just amoral but should be illegal, but I agreed to use Facebook in the first place so whatever. Alright, Facebook should be fined out of existence by the FTC for gross negligence with a hoard of data collected on tens of millions of Americans, but here I am using it so oh well.

It’s not like we all continue to participate in these structures because we’re all nihilists (the Christopher Wylies of the world are, though). There’s some level of coercion.

The implication of Facebooks public response to these crises always boils down to, “if you don’t like it leave.” And it seems like we have to imagine the end of our lives on Facebook, and therefore the end of our lives enjoying music with our friends. It does not have to be that way.

We live our lives tangled in this big fishing net of damned if you do, damned if you don’t choices imposed on us by contemporary capitalism. This is one of those rare cases when even though we’re all knotted up by this hulking corporation that mediates our entire music community, we can wriggle our way out.

A good place to start is asking, frankly, where’d this binary come from, enjoying music versus quitting Facebook? The alternatives will literally never exist until we start putting in the work to make them exist. Then we can make an actual choice about whether we want to use this fucking thing.

(As a quick aside, this applies to so many facets of our lives under capitalism, not just Facebook Events.)

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The fact of the matter is that there are so many technologic tools we can use to find out about and inform about happenings in our music communities. Angel Marcloid used to send mass texts to promote her shows. Situations in Chicago, which doesn’t make Facebook events for its shows at all, relies on its own mailing list and great looking flyers that promotors make to plaster on all sorts of other social media.

And for that matter, anyone who books shows will tell you Facebook events don’t guarantee a damn thing about attendance.

This is why I started a Chicago show calendar for Groove Cafe, and have been working on getting people to post on it more. We just need to start creating alternatives. If enough people who go to shows and parties start spreading word about some resource, and enough people who put shows and parties together start funneling energy into that resource, we might just end up with The Big Alternative to Facebook.

But is there a need for A Big Alternative to Facebook? Do we really just need one? It would be really nice if all of these things can use the same framework, just like they do with Facebook Events now. But that’s a tall order and chances are we’re going to be trying a lot of smaller alternatives that serve different purposes — planning political actions versus planning gatherings of friends — for a while before we hit that motherlode.

Either way, The Big Alternative is never going to come if all we do is continue to begrudgingly use a terrible platform run by an inept and morally vacant corporation.

I’ll mention Fisher’s book one more time. Towards the end of the first chapter in Capitalist Realism, Fisher quotes Margaret Thatcher’s political doctrine. It goes “There’s no alternative,” as in no alternative to a neoliberal capitalist order. I wouldn’t call us right now lucky per se, but we are living in a moment when it’s clear that exact system is rotting and that there must be alternatives because this late capitalism thing just isn’t working. In fact it may collapse.

Looking for alternatives is not some exercise of a utopian impulse, but a pragmatic one. There’s nothing utopian about saying, “I have to move because my landlord refuses to fix the gaping hole in my roof.” It’s literally the only safe option.

Now is as good a time as any to point out something that has likely been obvious all along. You are not reading an article decrying, “Music lovers, leave Facebook!”

From what my friends who understand this situation more intimately either in professional or academic capacities tell me, you can probably make Facebook freak out harder by just cutting down your usage and logging in sporadically (meaning yeah, you can check your events once every two weeks).

If you jump off the platform, now you’re just another fish to catch. If you stop using it as much, you actually hurt some of their key retention metrics, and therefore Facebook’ marketability to these ghouls like Cambridge Analytica buying that precious Facebook ad space.

That’s one take, certainly not the only one. Quitting bad things does feel good, after all.

The unfortunate and genuine reason I’m not preaching that we all delete our accounts is because we will never escape Facebook for as long as Facebook is around.

A major component of its business model is based on tracking your movement around the web. Any website that has a Like button, Facebook will know if you were there. You have a little token that Facebook attaches to you, and effectively uses this to surveil your movement on the internet. It’s not clear if this really goes away once you delete your Facebook account.

Even if you never joined Facebook, it has created a shadow profile for you. It will mine your phone number, email address, physical address, and whatever else when a friend of yours gives Facebook permission to scan her contacts. Facebook also collects your biometric data — as in what your face looks lie — based on your appearance in photos that people have posted to you on Facebook.

Makes your skin crawl, right? Facebook, effectively, is a private data collection agency. These practices exist in a legal grey area and some are the subject of class-action privacy lawsuits. Of course, the current legal landscape is one where civil liberties are eroded to the point that the NSA and domestic law enforcement agencies can, say, conduct dragnet data collection or, as recently reported by a Raleigh, NC television station, demand that Google hand over cell phone data of anyone who was in the radius a crime scene.

To me the simplest reason for developing an alternative to Facebook events is also the most profound: we can identify something rotten and begin to work on a solution that suits us. We are aware of the problems and we, as a vast chain of music communities — a network of networks — produce an alternative that suits us. Hopefully it can suit those other people who need new platforms for planning ways to gather people too.

All that surveillance, all the sickening police state data collection, all of Facebooks indiscretions, they when they are hidden. The threat that those agencies are working to mitigate is a public that knows exactly what’s going on and refuses to let it continue. We are fortunate regarding this specific Facebook issue, and I mean that, because we know exactly how we are being antagonized.

Frankly, by going to underground shows, by booking touring acts who need a stop in our city, by playing DIY venues every once in a while, we’re already participating in a functioning alternative to corporate capitalism. It’s not that we didn’t want to play Bowery Ballroom — or for that matter never play at amazing, above-the-board venues like the Empty Bottle — but that we just do this underground thing anyway.

Yes, DIY culture and music communities have one billion issues, but as far as alternatives to corporate capitalism go, this is a pretty good one. Maybe a national, ad hoc system more or less free from a profit motive and generally operating outside of the law doesn’t need to be shackled to some fetid corporation that helps fascists hijack an election.

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