Facebook, like Twitter, is one of those social networking tools that unions are struggling to figure out. It is the most used social networking tool on earth, and an increasing number of Baby Boomers are starting to use it, expanding out of the younger 16-30 year old demographic.
I have experimented with using Facebook as an organising tool for a while now. The NTEU for example has a Facebook profile, and a Facebook page. In this regard, it appears that Facebook is most useful in extending a union’s online presence. With Australia having the highest per-capita use of Facebook, it is likely that many members and prospective members will already be on Facebook.
However, Facebook is a straightjacket. The Facebook sysops have absolute control over their site, and can shut down union accounts (and have shown their willingness to do so in the past). If you build up a strong following, with many friends or fans, it is difficult to export their contact data – all the information remains locked up in Facebook’s platform.
However, unions can use Facebook as a useful tool for organising, so long as we realise that Facebook is not a universal panacea or silver bullet.
Often, union organisers will have to organise green fields sites – call centres, factories, offices and so on. Researching these sites, mapping and getting a scope on workplace issues is very important for organisers.
Facebook users will regularly put their work information into their profile, and much of this information is searchable. By simply doing a profile search, we can find people who may work at greenfields sites. If those people have also put other information on their profile, we could also find out their political views or whether they are likely to support unions (for example, if they belong to progressive causes or groups).
Many Facebook users also join groups that comment on workplaces. For example, there may be a group called ” Company X sucks”. These groups can contain useful information about the company, especially about the working conditions there.
Of course, the organiser will still need to do the hard work of organising, one-on-one meetings, phone calls and so on. And, not every company or workforce will be on Facebook. However, organisers can be more informed before they start.