Write Stuff – FaceLeft

What do social networks and icebergs have in common? That sounds like the start of a bad joke, but It’s not. When we’re posting and tweeting and liking, we rarely think about the hulking mass below the surface: the trove of personal data we’re handing away in exchange for the fun stuff. FaceLeft is a new social network that aims to change that?and be a force for good.

The mainstream social networks have, of course, played a critical role in helping millions around the world spread the word about social injustice. During the Arab Spring uprisings, for example, protesters were able to plan and mobilize against oppressive regimes in ways that would have been impossible without the immediacy of social networks.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and social media is no exception. Whether they’re building profiles of our funny photos or our political rants, corporate networks like Facebook and Twitter are in it for the money. Demographic profiles are sold, and then come the ads that seem to follow our every click around the web.

FaceLeft hopes to change that. As this Utne Reader article puts it, ?ad-free, substantive, and as open or private as users want to make it, FaceLeft is the first social network designed by and for activists?or anyone who feels uncomfortable with corporate-owned social media.?

Instead of following celebrities or corporate brands, FaceLeft users are encouraged to think a little more deeply; to actually find out a little about the how and why of decisions that affect their lives. The interface will look familiar to you if you use sites like Facebook. You can ?friend? or follow people, see their updates in your news feed, and customize your privacy settings. There are links for blogs, photos, videos, and invitations. But That’s where the similarity ends.

For example, you might find conversations in the Commons Areas about BeyoncĂ©, but they’re more likely to revolve around the messages that pop culture sends our kids. From what I’ve seen, the discussions aren’t preachy?they’re just real conversations among people who are tired of the superficial status quo. There’s a wide range of topics, including Hobbies, Popular Culture, Global Warming, Economics, and Culture/Communities.

Remember that line about no free lunch? Well, it still holds true, no matter how good FaceLeft’s intentions might be. But unlike the major social media players, FaceLeft is upfront about it. Though users won’t see ads or have their personal data sold, there is a charge. Three dollars a month; it costs money to renew domain names, pay for web hosting, and keep the lights on. There’s a 30-day free trial, and users can sign up through one of several portals, all of them established organizations (Utne Reader is one, and a sign-up link is at the bottom of this article).

FaceLeft is still getting started, and there’s no way to predict how big its community will grow. But I’m willing to put my three dollars where my Likes are.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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