Today, we launch “How to Ditch Facebook Without Losing Your Friends” - a narrated slideshow and essay explaining how Facebook locks in its users, how interoperability can free them, and what it would feel like to use an “interoperable Facebook” of the future, such as the one contemplated by the US ACCESS Act.

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Millions of Facebook users claim to hate the service - its moderation, both high-handed and lax, its surveillance, its unfair treatment of the contractors who patrol it and the publishers who fill it with content - but they keep on using it.

Both Facebook and its critics have an explanation for this seeming paradox: people use Facebook even though they don’t like it because it’s so compelling. For some critics, this is proof that Facebook has perfected an “addictive technology” with techniques like “dopamine loops.” Facebook is rather fond of this critique, as it integrates neatly with Facebook’s pitch to advertisers: “We are so good at manipulating our users that we can help you sell anything.”

We think there’s a different explanation: disgruntled Facebook users keep using the service because they don’t want to leave behind their friends, family, communities and customers. Facebook’s own executives share this belief, as is revealed by internal memos in which those execs plot to raise “switching costs” for disloyal users who quit the service.

“Switching costs” are the economists’ term for everything you have to give up when you switch products or services. Giving up your printer might cost you all the ink you’ve bulk-purchased; switching mobile phone OSes might cost you the apps and media you paid for. 

The switching cost of leaving Facebook is losing touch with the people who stay behind. Because Facebook locks its messaging and communities inside a “walled garden” that can only be accessed by users who are logged into Facebook, leaving Facebook means leaving behind the people who matter to you (hypothetically, you could organize all of them to leave, too, but then you run into a “collective action problem” - another economists’ term describing the high cost of getting everyone to agree to a single course of action).

That’s where interoperability comes in. Laws like the US ACCESS Act and the European Digital Markets Act (DMA) aim to force the largest tech companies to allow smaller rivals to plug into them, so their users can exchange messages with the individuals and communities they’re connected to on Facebook - without using Facebook.

“How to Ditch Facebook Without Losing Your Friends” explains the rationale behind these proposals - and offers a tour of what it would be like to use a federated, interoperable Facebook, from setting up your account to protecting your privacy and taking control of your own community’s moderation policies, overriding the limits and permissions that Facebook has unilaterally imposed on its users.

You can get the presentation as a full video, or a highlight reel, or a PDF or web-page. We hope this user manual for an imaginary product will stimulate your own imagination and give you the impetus to demand - or make - something better than our current top-heavy, monopoly-dominated internet.

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